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Sundance Rerun: Interview with Lana Wilson and Martha Shane - Directors of After Tiller

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
September 20, 2013 12:00 PM
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Martha Shane and Lana Wilson
Josh Luxenberg Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

Originally published on January 29. After Tiller is in theaters today.

One of the highlights of Sundance was seeing the documentary After Tiller directed by Martha Shana and Lana Wilson. Here's our conversation right after they won a $ 5,000 grant from Women in Film .

Women and Hollywood: Based on your experiences making this film and having not been activists on this issue, where do you think the abortion movement is now?

Martha Shane: That's a really good question. It's the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and there has been a lot of sort of doom and gloom about how we haven't made any progress. But I do think there are so many pro-choice people in this country. The majority of this country is pro-choice and I think we're ready to sort of move this conversation in a new direction. Our film is looking at the gray area and the complexities of this issue and showing that these doctors aren't political zealots, but they are actually doctors who are unbelievably dedicated and willing to risk everything to care for women who are in the most desperate situations. I think the movement's ready for a conversation that embraces the complexities and the experiences of individual women who are going through this.

Lana Wilson: We're 29, so by the time we were born abortion, contraception, equality, the right to vote, were all legal. So I think we have a very different experience. A lot of people our age when someone gets an abortion, they think why didn't she use contraception. Contraception's available. It's legal. What happened there? And I think that our film will hopefully show how complicated these circumstances are. There's a disconnect there just because abortion and contraception is legal they might not beeducated about it or have access to it. I really think that's the direction that the movement's going to go in. For example think of that 16-year-old girl at the end of our film, that's one of the most complicated cases. A lot of people argue about that after seeing the movie and it's so interesting to look at in the bigger picture of the movement and where it's going. Think of the 16-year-old girl, is it possible that she didn't have a comprehensive sex education, is it possible she doesn't have access to contraception, is it possible she didn't have as responsible adult in her life who she felt comfortable talking to? How did she get to this point, and how can we change that. That is what we have to look at.

WaH: So you had the idea for the movie, right?

MS: No. Lana had the idea.

WaH: Lana, tell us where the idea came from.

LW: The idea came from watching the news coverage of Dr. Tiller's death and similar to what Martha talked about earlier, this fatigue of how this issue is covered in the media. It's black and white. It's people screaming at each other. It's all these abstract ideas, like when does life begin. Who cares when life begins? It's doesn't have anything to do with the woman who's at the center of this or the doctors. It's not theoretical, intellectual arguments, so I was being frustrated the way it was covered. With Dr. Tiller's death, they would just say, he's a controversial abortion doctor. They'd get the talking points from the two sides and that was it.

I was just so curious. Who is this guy? Who would do a job where you go into work the day after you're shot in both arms? It was just unbelievable to me. It made me so curious about who would do this, who would be okay with being vilified by so much of the country but driven enough to keep going to work. I had no idea at the time why a woman would need a late abortion so I was curious about that too. And also about who was left now that this man was assassinated. Are there other doctors in the wings to take his place? Would people be scared out of doing this, was anyone going to step forward now that he was gone? I just thought it would be so interesting to get away from those shouting two-sided polemical debate and be a fly on the wall in the lives of the doctors at the center of this. What is it like to be them? How does it affect their personal life? How do they deal with these pressures and threats all the time?

WaH: And how did you two start to work together?

MS: We studied film together at Wesleyan University and I've been working in documentary for a while and had done some projects related to sexuality and health care and this was just felt like a natural fit. So when Lana came to me with the idea I just felt first of all how can there be only four doctors in the country of this size who are doing this procedure. And then learning more about their ages and wondering what is life like for them. As soon as we met subjects themselves and just saw how different their personalities were, but how dedicated they were to this work and how courageous they were, I knew this was just going to be a great documentary.

WaH: How did you divide the directing duties?

LW: We weren't the kind of directing team that really split up things. We just did everything together. When we were shooting we alternated doing sound and we had a cinematographer with us so one person could direct and the other could do sound and we could switch off.

WaH: Do you still like each other?

LW: Our relationship survived, which I know is often not the case.

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