Note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the makers of some of my favorite nonfiction films of 2010...
One of my favorite surprises in a year of great filmmaking came when I sat down at Hot Docs in May to watch Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 12TH AND DELAWARE. A film positioned literally in the middle of the abortion debate could have easily been bombastic or one-sided in favor of a pro-choice position. Instead their film is a subtle, stunningly crafted work that watches as characters on both sides of the divide deal with the women who come to them with unwanted pregnancies.
As I wrote about the film for Sheffield Doc/Fest:
"There is a moment in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s new film where their protagonist – a staunchly pro-life woman who counsels pregnant women in hopes that they will decide to keep their babies – drops her cover. In most of the conversations that Ewing and Grady capture, the woman proves masterful at masking her true intent – she seems almost motherly in offering the possibility that there are options other than abortion. Their subject knows that if she reveals her true feelings, she risks alienating the very women she hopes to convince. Her effort is all about the soft sell.
But one particular case proves stubborn. And in trying to sway her, Ewing and Grady’s subject slips. She pushes too hard, too dogmatically. And in that moment, she loses her case – and, she fears, an innocent fetus will be sacrificed for her failure.
This moment proves that the power of nonfiction film remains as potent and as vital in 2010 as it has ever been. "
I emailed with Ewing and Grady about their characters, about the process of making 12TH AND DELAWARE - particularly their partnership with HBO Documentary Films, and how they divide up labor when they work together.
All these wonderful things: One of the things that I love about your films is that you tackle a subject that we think we know, one that might be easy to stereotype, and you give us a much deeper picture of that topic than one may expect going in. I'll admit to wondering what you could bring to the abortion topic before I saw the film, but the truth is that you brought levels of shading that I've never seen before. What was your process going into the film?
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady: We never set out really to make a film “about abortion,” as we didn’t think we had anything new to add to the discussion, which has become deafeningly loud by both extremes that hijacked the debate long ago. But thanks to the JESUS CAMP kids we had become aware of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, these low profile, anti-abortion centers that have quietly proliferated all over the United States. We had entered one during the making of that film and were confused as to what was happening here. There were ultrasound machines and ”medical” pamphlets but there was something else going on here. But what? We are so glad we go the opportunity to go back to this subject and get to the bottom of it.