Editor’s Notes: After Tiller opens Friday, October 4 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.
Often the documentaries that gain popularity have a topicality and innate slant towards the controversial. The real world is a complicated place and we humans only make it more so. Assuredly there are those documentaries that are merely here to stir the pot, hoping to shock or upset viewers to gain popularity. However, not all members of this controversial ilk are attention whores cart wheeling while spouting racial epitaphs. Documentary film has the ability to educate, entertain and provoke discussions that tend to carry more weight simply due to their accessibly lived in nature. Everyone walking into After Tiller will have an opinion; it’s the very nature of its subject. It’s what it does with those opinions that’s so impressive.
A great documentary film is not merely rooted in real life, but offers a path that would typically go unexplored. More than abortions, this is a film about people and that is why it is great.
On a Sunday morning in May of 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot dead. To all appearances, Dr. Tiller was not the kind of man that inspired outrage. However, his medical practice is what caused him to be the ire of many groups. Dr. Tiller was the medical director of Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, which, at the time, was one of only three centers in the United States to offer late-term abortions. Despite the hope by anti-abortionists that this would be a deterrent, a warning to those that hoped to follow in Tiller’s footsteps, four other doctors remained willing to perform the procedure. Doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Shelley Sella, and Susan Robinson continue to perform legal late-term abortions in an environment that is continually caustic to their very existence.
It will be hard for After Tiller to overcome the sheer number of surface gazers that see the film as simply the most recent abortion film. At its center is a discussion of late-term abortion, but to believe that that is all the film is about, is cripplingly ignorant. With so few doctors available to be interviewed they all possess a deep closeness. Over great expanses of land they have a common ground, a belief that what they are doing is right and a fire that burns hot enough to prevent them from abandoning their practices. Those that dismiss the film based on its simplistic synopsis assuredly do not recognize the power of documentary. A great documentary film is not merely rooted in real life, but offers a path that would typically go unexplored. More than abortions, this is a film about people and that is why it is great.
When directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson go back to the issue at hand, they do so in a surprisingly level-headed manner. Rather than asserting an opinion that either side is correct, they instead show the effects that the decisions have on all those involved. The stereotypical face of abortion is that of irresponsibility. Accidentally pregnant teens looking for a way out are perhaps the most tangible image that walks quietly with the topic. However, this is not the case with late-term abortions. The many faceless patients nervously sit before the doctors and we are offered another side to the abortion discussion.
Rather than surprises, the pregnancies are shown to be planned, with responsible potential parents excited at the prospect of bringing a child into the world. These are parents that are torn between their desire for a baby, and the wellbeing of that child. A cavalcade of little-known infant ailments is mentioned, and the children look to lives of constant pain and sickness. Many of the parents are merely looking for what’s best for these children, and as heartbreaking as it is to say, that may mean no life at all. The tear-soaked confessions often make the radical anti-abortion chanters look cartoonishly evil. It is hard to argue that these disconnected bible-beaters are showing any compassion, but the more casual anti-abortionist may feel differently. While the argument for abortion is well articulated and complex, the other side within the film is decidedly more pig-headed, when in actuality it is just as complicated.
When directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson go back to the issue at hand, they do so in a surprisingly level-headed manner. Rather than asserting an opinion that either side is correct, they instead show the effects that the decisions have on all those involved.
Abortion will always be a hot-button issue. The emotions involved are strong, and those opposed to it will continually fight as hard as they can. This issue, however, like much in life, is far from being clearly black and white. After Tiller will be discussed as the late-term abortion documentary, but it is certainly much more than that. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have smartly focused on the human element of it all. These doctors are not simply going around offering people an easy way out of parenting. They all believe strongly in what they are doing, showing great care and compassion for every patient that they encounter. The film may not convince audiences to support abortion, but it isn’t entirely concerned with that. After Tiller is a documentary about people before issues. The film represents the strength of its medium, allowing a complex conversation on a highly emotional issue to encourage discussion, and highlight just how difficult abortion can be for everyone.
[notification type=”star”]94/100 ~ AMAZING. After Tiller is a documentary about people before issues. The film represents the strength of its medium, allowing a complex conversation on a highly emotional issue to encourage discussion, and highlight just how difficult abortion can be for everyone.[/notification]