Monday, April 29, 2013

Life ‘After Tiller’: A Film Review

There are films that you watch because you expect to enjoy them, and there are films that you watch regardless. For me After Tiller was an example of the latter. This timely and thought-provoking documentary screened at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival last Saturday after premiering at Sundance and Sarasota. Not merely “pro-choice” but also “pro-late term,” it trails four clinical abortion providers, who like their late colleague George Tiller once did, service pregnant women in their third trimester. While the film takes an obvious stand on the issue, it doesn’t present an argument but instead tells a very personal story about people who put their careers, reputations, and lives on the line for a cause.

As might be expected, After Tiller focuses on harassment and threats directed toward these physicians and their families. Previously the target of arsonists, LeRoy Carhart (Nebraska) is shown clashing with locals when trying to open a new clinic, and Warren Hern (Colorado) talks about a failed marriage and threats directed towards his mother. However, the film also provides a unique insight as to how the doctors and parents justify what they do while they’re doing it. And I believe that’s what makes its most important contribution to the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

For the doctors, legality doesn’t end moral dilemma. Susan Robinson (New Mexico) and her staff counselor wrestle with determining which cases they believe are compelling enough to warrant the procedure. Shelley Sella (New Mexico) struggles with the task of having to deliver stillborn babies. There are also some heart-wrenching scenes with the parents, of whom most are distraught over severe problems with their babies’ health. What I found extremely bothersome, however, were two couples trying to justify late-term abortion because their babies had diseases that would prevent them from being athletic like their parents. I really feel sorry for their living children who I imagine will spend their childhood and teen years being pressured to perform in sports.

If you get an opportunity to see After Tiller, I recommend it. It’s well made (save for some scenes where the film was inverted! Come on, piercings and moles shouldn’t move around!), and it’s very informative, especially for someone like me who rarely seeks out anything on induced abortion from any side. Don’t worry about changing your mind on abortion or late-term abortion because I really doubt this film’s capable of doing that. Go see After Tiller because you need to be informed. The NBFF will be playing it again this Wednesday night (May 1), and San Francisco International Film Festival (April 25 to May 9) will be showing it this weekend. Check the film’s website for additional screenings. I suspect it will also be on Netflix in the near future.

After Tiller - SFIFF56 Clip from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.