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Friday, June 21, 2013

BAMcinemaFest 2013: Q&A with Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

by Jessica Goldschmidt

After Tiller is the feature-length directing debut of Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, two Brooklyn-based filmmakers and friends who teamed up to chronicle the abortion-rights battle. The film follows the only four doctors left in the US who still perform third-trimester abortions, painting a wrenchingly honest, unbiased portrait of the dangers they and their patients have faced every day since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

After Tiller screens at BAMcinemaFest on Saturday, June 22.

1. When and how did you come to know you wanted to make movies?

Martha: I decided that I wanted to make movies when I was working on Bi the Way, a documentary that I started producing the year after I graduated from college. I was standing in a field full of longhorn steer, asking a rancher about his opinions on bisexuality, and I just couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.

Lana: I had always fantasized about becoming a filmmaker one day, but had never had the courage to act on it. In 2009, I became obsessed with why the news media was only covering the Dr. Tiller assassination story in such a polarizing, political way, always painting him as this dramatic symbol of controversy rather than as a complex human being. I started asking myself, “When is someone going to make a film that looks at this Tiller stuff in a different way?” I was ranting endlessly about how someone should do this Tiller film, when finally my exasperated then-boyfriend said, “Lana, the only thing stopping you from becoming a filmmaker is just making a film.” It turns out that he was right.

2. What would you be doing if you weren't a filmmaker?

Martha: If I wasn't a filmmaker, I'd be an Olympic figure skater. (Obviously...)

Lana: Probably still curating work by other artists and wishing I was one of them. That wouldn’t be so bad, though—I love curating.

3. What are some of the challenges you faced while making your film, both artistic and logistical?

Martha: One of the biggest challenges was finding patients who were willing to be in the film. It required a lot of patience, as well as a lot of support from the counselors at the clinic, but ultimately I think we were able to find a diverse range of situations that are really representative of the experiences of women who seek third-trimester abortions. We're so grateful to those patients who did agree to be part of the film—if they hadn't, we would still be filming now!

Lana: Artistically, I think the biggest challenge was to treat this subject in a way that wasn’t sensationalized. Camera position ended up being very important, because with the incredibly emotional, politically charged content that we were working with, the slightest tilt, angle, or self-conscious framing could suggest a point of view or even a judgment. That was something we wanted to stay away from, so that audiences could feel like they had the space to think for themselves. We ended up often choosing the most neutral, straightforward camera angles possible for shooting each scene—our brilliant DP (Hillary Spera) said she approached it like she was filming a nature documentary.

4. Talk about your favorite movie of the past two or three years.

Martha: I saw Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing in March, and I can't stop thinking about it.

Lana: First, The Turin Horse—I think this is Bela Tarr’s best movie ever. My other two favorites of last year are Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea and Steve Coogan’s The Trip. I’ve watched the “tomorrow, we rise” sequence from the latter at least 10 times, and can tell you that it gets funnier with every viewing.

5. Are you working on a new project now?

Martha: I'm working on a film called The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne about a French con artist who ran fraudulent film festivals and distribution companies in the United States for almost 20 years.

Lana: Yes. I’m researching a project about marriage counseling in prison. I wanted a lighter subject.

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