Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pro-Choice/Pro-Life Update -- and a fresh look at UNBORN IN THE U.S.A.

Thanks to a media advisory sent out by First Run Features at the beginning of this month, regarding the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a 2007 documentary that had somehow escaped TrustMovies' attention has suddenly come back into very sharp focus. Dr. Tiller, having performed abortions for decades, has been a verbal -- and now, unfortunately, otherwise -- target for many disciples of the pro-life movement. In Stephen Fell's and Will Thompson's exceptional film UNBORN IN THE USA, Dr. Tiller is seen briefly and talked about -- the film was made several years ago and released theatrically in 2007 -- but anyone who watches (and listens) to the movie will be made aware of how unsurprising this murder really is.

What these two documentarians do -- and it's a risky move -- is to allow the pro-life movement to speak for itself. Fell & Thompson don't editorialize and, in fact, seldom disagree or ask particularly hard-hitting questions. (They do, smartly, allow a couple of the "uneasy" pro-lifers to question their own group's attitudes and maneuvers.) This means that those of us on the pro-choice side must sit in front of our DVD screens as we are preached to, sometimes quite honestly and movingly, about the importance of stopping abortion. This forces us to think and rethink our own beliefs, and to sometimes argue aloud at the screen, as these Christian fundamentalists air their views. The single time that the movie-makers halt the proceedings to call attention to the untruth of what someone is saying happens when an angry woman (shown below) bares her missing breasts to a crowd of pro-life protesters and blames her cancer on the fact that she had an abortion. It's then that Fell & Thompson tell us firmly that no real evidence has been found to link breast cancer with abortion.

We're made privy to how a pro-life group organizes and teaches its members to proselytize and counter any and all attitudes except their own -- winning over, in the process, some former "pro-choicers." We also see an array of attitudes on the pro-life side, from those who are against stopping abortion by any means necessary and those who support it, no matter the means. What unites them all is their belief that they know and are acting on the word of god, unlike those of us who disagree with them ("tool of Satan," I believe is the epithet of choice). Fundamentalist Christian religion is at the core of everything here, and if there was ever a movie that finally screams for the separation of church and state, it's this one.

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is referred to often throughout, with clips shown now and again (some of which are cleverly set against visuals from the documentary itself). "We're a visual society," note the filmmakers, and this fact is also made clear by the pro-lifers, whose campaign of huge photographs showing dead fetuses is key to the story. These displays set off a good degree of anger on the college campuses and in the communities where they are shown, and the movie finally rises to one of the most riveting climaxes I can recall in any documentary, in which two people, both avowed Christians -- one pro-choice, the other pro-life -- argue with growing force until an explosion occurs. Talk about a filmmaker being in the right place at the right time. This final confrontation has the force of any fifty narrative examples you might recall, and you'll come away from Unborn in the USA properly shaken but, I suspect, even more redoubtable in your "faith," whatever it might be.

For my part, I think it's way past time to create a new "Christian" T-shirt. Instead of JESUS SAVES, however, mine is going to read JESUS enSlAVES.

Unborn in the USA is available for sale from First Run Features and for rent via your usual channels. All photos -- and poster -- above are from the film.

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