Made over the course of more than 15 years, was a hit at the Toronto film festival last fall, gaining strong, positive reviews, for example in the Miami Herald and Variety. It sought to be an exceptionaly even-handed treatment of the subject, and by everything I've seen, reviewers think it succeeded. A New York Times reviewer said: "it serves as a prime candidate for the definitive abortion documentary."
But beyond early rave reviews, I think the film will be politically important. I think it will inform and shape public conversation about the politics of abortion for years to come -- as any work of such force and distributed on a wide scale can do. In exactly what ways it will change the discourse on abortion, I cannot predict. But is it worth considering as the early, perhaps definitive presidential primaries are nearly upon us. Indeed. Those pols and consultants who believe they will no longer have to talk about abortion, (or can get away with reducing the matter to slogans like "safe, legal and rare") may find themselves quite mistaken.
The film deliberately fits none of the well established narratives about abortion. It is apparently such a powerful, well-made film that even at two and a half hours, reviewers say amazingly enough -- it's not too long. The film is shot in black and white in part, Kaye says, because with this issue, there are only shades of gray. He claims after all this time to remain confused about the subject. I believe him.
While 2 1/2 hours may sound like a long time for a documentary on one of America's most endlessly rehashed issues, the end credits may roll in "Lake of Fire" before viewers tire of it.
Smart, visually appealing and consistently engaging, it finds fresh ways of addressing a debate that is, thanks to new state laws and changes in the Supreme Court, once again becoming unavoidable. It has the right stuff to rise above the nonfiction pack both in commercial terms and in the public discussion, even if the subject's fatigue factor will keep some potential viewers away.
The film spends a lot of time on an underdiscussed subject: violence against abortion providers. Interviewees include Emily Lyons, an Alabama nurse who was severely injured by a pipe bomb exploded at a clinic by Eric Rudolph, who was on the FBIs Most Wanted List for years in connection with the bombing of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, as well as two clinics and a gay bar. Also interviewed is Paul Hill, who publicly advocated the notion that the murder of abortion providers is "justifiable homicide." Hill went on to murder a doctor and an escort himself, and was executed in Florida for his crimes. The loose-but-nevertheless-criminal-and-theocratic revolutionary-underground-network is rarely discussed anywhere, let alone in such a remarkable and prominent vehicle as this. (If you follow the above links to Eric Rudolph and Paul Hill, they may provide a preview of the things I was talking about in those days that may have made it into the film.)
Here is an excerpt from the Variety review:
Interviewees speaking directly to camera range from linguist and cultural critic Noam Chomsky and Catholic campaigner Frances Kissling (both adamantly pro-choice), to lawyer Alan Dershowitz (more mixed on the issue), to eminent jazz critic Nat Hentoff, who although he professes to be an atheist still firmly believes a fetus has just as much right to life as any infant.
More typical, religiously informed pro-lifers include homophobic fundamentalist Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, seen being heckled by transvestites at a Washington, D.C., rally, and various other Florida-based anti-abortion zealots, some of whom (Michael Griffin and Paul Hill) ended up murdering doctors who performed abortions. Footage of Griffin and Hill's trials is seen, while sociologist Dallas Blanchard acts as a commentator and guide through their case histories.
Kaye also includes footage of a clearly deranged Hill before he committed his crime declaiming that people who say "God damn it" will be condemned to eternal suffering in hell.
Editing moves effortlessly between political and ethical speechifying and more personal stories. Some are famous, like Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe, the woman pseudonymously named in the key 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. and who is now a passionate pro-lifer.
In contrast, a 29-year-old woman named Stacey is observed going through the whole process of having a termination, from the counseling to the procedure itself. Afterward, she's shaken but unrepentant about having made the right decision for her.
Tony Kaye interviewed me for it probably 8 years ago. It had been so long, I had wondered if it would ever appear -- and if it did, I figured I would probably end up on the cutting room floor. As it turned out, I am in it, and am honored to be in some distinguished company -- all of us, considerably younger.
There are press screenings and interviews with director Tony Kaye currently underway in the run up to the New York premeir, so I expect that we will start to see some media coverage. (There is also a (Sneak preview screening in Ft. Worth on September 30th.)
Here is an excerpt from the press release sent out by the distributor, THINKFilm.
LAKE OF FIRE, An Epic Film on Abortion in America by Tony Kaye, Premieres Wednesday, October 3 at Film Forum
Film Forum is pleased to present the U.S. theatrical premiere of LAKE OF FIRE. Fifteen years in the making, this epic documentary stands as the definitive work on the perennially controversial issue of abortion.
After opening at Film Forum on October 3, THINKFilm will release LAKE OF FIRE in Los Angeles on October 12 and throughout the U.S. in October and November.
Filming exclusively in black-and-white, director Tony Kaye (AMERICAN HISTORY X) probes the complexities of abortion by exploring a range of moral and philosophical positions, from pro-choice supporters Noam Chomsky and Frances Kissling (president of Catholics for a Free Choice) to pro-life defenders such as Nat Hentoff and the movement's more militant leaders - Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, as well as zealots who have murdered doctors who perform abortions. Whatever your position on abortion, this film will challenge your preconceived notions of right and wrong. One of the most contentious issues in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade legalized the practice in 1973, abortion is once again on the front burner, the subject of a hotly debated recent Supreme Court decision - Gonzalez v. Carhart, which upheld the Partial Abortion Ban Act of 2003 by a vote of 5-4.
LAKE OF FIRE will have an exclusive engagement beginning Wednesday, October 3 at Film Forum, West Houston Street (W. of 6th Ave.) with screenings daily at 1:00, 3:50, 6:35, and 9:25.
"Staggering. Surely a definitive statement on the subject. The film represents an enormous act of social conscience, spanning from the historical to the heartbreakingly personal.Eye-opening new interviews - one with 'Jane Roe,' now an evangelical convert - reveal an investigatory spirit worthy of the best journalism." - Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out NY
"Smart, visually appealing, and consistently engaging, it finds fresh ways of addressing a debate that is, thanks to new state laws and changes in the Supreme Court, once again becoming unavoidable." - John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
LAKE OF FIRE (2006, 152 mins.) Produced, Directed and Photographed by Tony Kaye. Editor: Peter Goddard. Music: Anne Dudley. Sound: Peter Goddard. With: Alan Dershowitz, Noam Chomsky, Nat Hentoff, Dallas Blanchard, Norma McCorvey, Peter Singer, Randall Terry, Frederick Clarkson, Bill Baird, Frances Kissling, Michael Griffin, Paul Hill.
[Crossposted from Talk to Action]
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