By Marianna Levine
“If you have food in your stomach, how can you feel bad in your heart,” an Indian mother cooking over an open fire in the middle of a Mumbai slum asks Tracey Jackson, director and producer of “Lucky Ducks” a documentary detailing the perils of parenting a privileged teen. Jackson, who splits her time between Sag Harbor and Manhattan, has asked the mother how one can fix a hole in a child’s heart. The answer echoed Jackson’s own cinematic quest to answer the question: “why are privileged kids often unhappy?”
This conversation occurs after Jackson wonders why poor Indian children seem so much happier then their “lucky ducks” counterparts back on the Upper East Side of New York. One of these ducks is her daughter Taylor Templeton, whom the documentary follows as she goes from shopping on Madison Ave. to teaching English to the poorest of Mumbai’s children at a special school started by the Canadian charity One!International.
Almost three years after Jackson, best known as the screenwriter of “Confessions of a Shopaholic” decided to document her then-15-year-old daughter’s journey to India, the duo found themselves on the cover of the April 2 New York Post next to the title “Mom Tells: I Raised a Spoiled Manhattan Brat.” The cover came as quite a shock to Jackson who was traveling with her family in Italy when the story broke.
Apparently someone at the Post had seen a small story about the film in an issue of Marie Claire and had asked to interview Jackson. She agreed, but never in a million years thought it would be a cover story. That honor, Jackson wryly notes in her blog, is usually reserved for women who have had sex with Tiger Woods, not a documentary filmmaker.
Once Jackson’s tale of how she took her “spoiled” daughter to India hit the newsstands, Jackson’s phone didn’t stop ringing. Since April 2 she has been on “Good Morning America” and “Canada,” and “The Joy Behar Show.”
After months of trying to get the film into festivals and sending out countless press releases, Jackson suddenly finds people are very interested in perhaps handling and distributing “Lucky Ducks.” She hopes the film will be released soon.
The publicity however has had its down side as well. People on TV, in the Post, and on the popular website Urban Baby have questioned Jackson’s parenting skills as well as her choice to go to India with Templeton rather than stay in the U.S. and help the poor here.
“A hungry kid is a hungry kid, but there is no comparison to the poverty you see in India and I was trying to take her out of her safety net,” said Jackson in an interview. “You can go to a soup kitchen and afterwards go back to your bed and dinner at home. (In India) you can’t escape the poverty.”
Jackson also explains that she has a long standing relationship with both India and the organization her daughter worked for, One!International.
“I have been going to India since 1979, so I knew the slums would be a different type of experience. And I have worked with the school for seven years. It seemed like a natural thing to do,” she relates.
In the end, the film turned out to be more about Jackson’s learning to let go of her growing daughter rather than about Templeton’s entitlement.
“Through making this film I faced my own problems,” she said. “Parents are very quick to look at the problems as being the child’s. Often as parents we fail to look at ourselves and our participation in what happens to our children.”
Templeton who is currently studying communications at Emerson College in Boston, agrees.
“I’d have to say the overall process of making this film was very eye opening,” she said. “It took almost three years to complete and it felt good to work very hard on something and then see a finished product. Growing up no matter what the circumstances is very difficult, and I wanted to show people they are not alone in this process.”
For Templeton the trip to India was indeed life changing, and she is thrilled that the Post story is giving One!International and its schools some well deserved publicity. She is also still involved with the One!International school. She has made reusable tote bags with the word India on it that she sells to raise money for their schools.
Jackson hopes to screen the film here in the near future, and Sag Harbor itself makes an appearance in the film (Templeton is shown working at Sylvester & Company during the summer). For now the DVD “Lucky Ducks” is available on her website: traceyjacksononline.com.