So, as many of you know, I headed out to LA this past Friday to see the premiere of a documentary that a good friend of mine appeared in. The documentary, entitled The A Word, is a production of Miss Lindsay Ellis, whom some of you may recognize from That Guy With The Glasses. Here's how Friday night went down.
We got to the Norris Theater on the USC campus fairly early and had plenty of time to settle in before the screenings started. Three 20-25 minute films were being shown for the first time that evening, and Lindsay's was scheduled to be screened last.
The first feature was called The Raw Truth. When we had first seen the title on facebook's event page for the premiere, I told Missa (our documentary star) that it was probably related to the raw food movement. Unfortunately, I was right. More unfortunately, many of the documentary's subjects were in the audience, wasted on this or that herbal remedy, and shouting and wooting every time one of their unwashed numbers appeared on the screen. Before the screenings started, we had taken note of the large hippie contingent, observing them take a trip out to the parking lot en masse for "spiritual enhancement" and they passed around several un-labeled brown bottles and a jar of clear liquid amongst themselves in the middle of the theater before the lights went down. Tell me how this works: If raw foodies don't consume anything remotely cooked or warmed over, how did they manage to distill their hippie moonshine? *shrug* In any event, though the movie was more than technically competent, it lacked any kind of engagement to me. The film consisted of a series of interviews with various raw food luminaries, and though some of the food looked good, the conspiracy theorists and militant vegans just generally put me off the whole enterprise. Also: It was narrated by Andy Dick--known coke fiend and newly-converted raw foodie--who apparently caused a scene on campus, but I missed that part.
The second film was a breath of fresh air. Stepping Out? was a funny, personal story centered on the director--Yaminah McKessey--contemplating the possibility of dating a white man as a black woman. The film stayed focused around Yaminah's journal entries and questions while incorporating interviews of other young black women contemplating the same choice, interracial couples at various points in their relationships, and some historical background. I liked the personal focus of the piece, but I was also far more engaged with the subject interviews: Rather than being militant advocates for a specific way of life, they were people living their lives and making their own way. I was particularly impressed by one of the couples--Leigh-Ann and Matt, and their beautiful daughter Simone--who have embraced their multicultural status and have even built up a clothing line inspired by their daughter: the Swirl Syndicate (http://www.swirlsyndicate.com/). I'm probably going to pick up some stuff for Rhys there. Anyway, I felt it struck a good balance of social awareness and humor. I enjoyed it and would love to see it do well. Yaminah said that they would be creating a facebook page soon, so watch out for that.
The third film was from our girl Lindsay. Based on the initial call for contributors, the first images from the production, and the vibe I got from Lindsay and her crew, I was expecting something pretty left-leaning. I'm not exactly sure how I expected the film to function, but I was pleasantly surprised by the production. The film ended up being centered on Lindsay's experience coming to terms with her own abortion (which was only one year ago). The early parts of the film were what someone who has seen Lindsay's work as the Nostalgia Chick might expect: Irreverent and quirky. Scenes of Lindsay holding up plastic pro-life fetus dolls, frolicking with a Jesus impersonator in front of Mann's Chinese Theater, displaying hand-written signs introducing facts and figures. The film begins to look at the issue of abortion generally. This was the part my friend Missa was included in: General interviews with Missa and two other young women who felt generally positive about their experiences. Then, Lindsay interviewed a woman who regretted her abortions: A born-again Christian who had a memorial stone made with names for her four aborted fetuses (feti?), and went with her to an anti-abortion rally.
This is where there was, for me, a tonal shift, and the movie became deeply personal and emotionally challenging. Lindsay introduces the audience to the "baby daddy," Ritvik, and we witness some intimate conversations between the two about what might have been, about the challenges Lindsay faced when she discovered she was pregnant, about how she felt she would have gone through with having the baby if someone in her family had agreed to adopt her. That's the other thing: Lindsay revealed that she was going to have a daughter; that she had thought about names for her.
We follow Lindsay home to Tennessee to talk about her decision with her parents: Her liberal spitfire of a mother and her comparatively conservative soft-spoken father. Lindsay's mother encourages her, assuring her that she made the right decision, that the abortion was her right, and that it was the best thing for her to do. Meanwhile, these scenes are intercut with Lindsay interacting with her father. He doesn't speak most of the time. He sits with Lindsay on a piano bench, playing as Lindsay sings (with a beautiful voice, by the by); he sits in the background watching quietly as Lindsay and her mother speak. He finally speaks as the interviews wrap up, pulling both women into a "group hug" because "it's getting cold."
During this section of the movie was one of the emotional breaking points for me. Lindsay's mom talks about her own abortion when she was nineteen. It's an all-too-common story: She was raped by an acquaintance and never reported it. She was lucky enough to find a doctor who would do the procedure. When she went in for the procedure, the doctor said: "You were raped, weren't you?" Lindsay's mom, surprised, found the courage to admit that, yes, she had been. The doctor replied: "They all are." That moment destroyed me. So many times I've heard similar stories, but this woman trying to convince her daughter that she had done the right thing... a woman who was courageous enough to do what was right for her... to be looked down upon by the one man who could help her... I broke down crying.
The other emotional breaking point was at the anti-abortion rally. After watching the interviewee (the one with the memorial stone) speak to the audience, Lindsay felt motivated to get up and say something. The organizers of the event were clearly afraid to let her speak. (We spoke to the cinematographer, Vincent, afterward, and he asked if we had noticed the camera shake in that scene; One of the organizers tried to get him to stop filming.) After promising to "be respectful," she was allowed to take the stage.
In a shaky voice, eyes moist, but holding back her tears, Lindsay got up in front of the audience--an audience that we have seen holding signs that say "I regret my abortion" and "I regret my lost fatherhood"--and began to speak. It was clear she hadn't planned out her speech, but her words... there's no way I can do them justice. The ending statement was, basically, that this audience may value the lives of the aborted fetuses, but there was no way any of them felt the loss of her daughter the way she did. It was moving, emotionally raw, and tear-inducing.
Overall, it was an amazing experience of a film. I'm a lefty--always have been--and sometimes I find it easy to dismiss the potential emotional fallout that conservatives always harp on as the consequences of abortion, of the reason we should ban the choice. This movie illustrated in a big way the heartbreak that can occur, even if someone has made the right choice for herself. To me, this proved all the more that abortion is a highly personal experience and that no one can impose their views on another, that no one should impose their views on another.
Afterward, Missa, James, and I were sitting outside the theater, recovering, regaining our breath from the experience. We managed to say hello to Vincent, Lindsay, and Nella (out from New York), and were hoping to say hi to Clarinda and Kaveh--the two producers of the project--when a man we hadn't met, but definitely recognized came up to us.
It was Ritvik. He not only appeared in the film with Lindsay, but was an editor on the project. He recognized Missa and asked to give her a hug. Even though we hadn't met him when Lindsay's crew came out (don't need editors to do the filming), he had gone through all the raw footage for the project and had heard her tell her story. (I'll leave her to tell that story in her own words.) He hugged Missa, shook my hand and James', and thanked her for her courage in telling her story. James thanked him for his own courage, both in appearing in the movie and working on the project. Ritvik dismissed the praise, assuring us that "it was all Lindsay."
And that's really what this movie is: all Lindsay. And I think that's a good thing: The project shows how incredibly personal abortion is, the myriad of feelings that come with the experience, the doubts, the fears, the hopes. It's not the end-all statement on the abortion debate because I don't think one end-all statement on the issue is possible. It's another voice, one I haven't seen before, and one that puts the focus where--I, personally--think it should be: On the woman who has to make the choice; the only one who can ethically make the final choice.
I really hope this project can see wider release. If there's anything that can be done to help that endeavor, I'll be sure to help spread the word.