February 20, 2008

Interview with Abby Epstein, Director of The Business of Being Born

The Business of Being Born, the new documentary produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein has been playing in limited release in several cities across the country. For information on where the film is playing: The Business of Being Born

Here is my review: Review of The Business of Being Born

Women & Hollywood: How did you become involved with this film?

Abby Epstein: Ricki Lake and I became friendly when I directed her in "The Vagina Monologues" Off-Broadway. We stayed in touch and I knew that she was planning a homebirth for her second child, although at the time I thought she was completely nuts! A few years later, Ricki had finished her talk show and relocated to LA so I stopped by to see her new house and have a visit. I had just completed my first doc "Until the Violence Stops" about the worldwide V-Day movement and Ricki was looking to start a "dream" project about midwives and birthing. I was completely ignorant on the topic but intrigued by Ricki's passion, so I asked her for some reading material and she gave me a book called "Spiritual Midwifery" by Ina May Gaskin. Then Ricki showed me the home video footage of her homebirth (which we use in the film) and I was completely blown away. We began from there.
W&H: How did your involvement with the film effect your own birth experience?
AE: On the one hand, I was very fortunate having spent 2 years researching birthing options in NYC before I became pregnant. I was not only a highly informed customer, but I had attended several births and did not have any more fear about the birth process. So, I felt like I had all these amazing people to choose from when it came time to selecting a provider (of course not all of them took my HMO, so that limited me a bit) But on the other hand, I was put in a position where there became pressure to include my birth in the film - which I resisted. I had no interest in turning the cameras on myself and was unsure whether we were in fact going to document my birth until the very last moment.
W&H: Explain why you chose the title The Business of Being Born.
AE: Truthfully, we couldn't think of anything short and catchy. None of us really loved the title but it seemed to encompass the broad range of aspects we were looking at in the birthing "business."
W&H: It seems that you and Ricki are both on a type of crusade here - using the film to help educate and organize women to take back their own bodies and their births. Did you ever expect the film would morph into this type of movement?
AE: We never expected that the film would have such an impact on mainstream birth culture. I think we suspected that it would hit a nerve, but we honestly just wanted to put the information out there in a bold way - not watered down. It all stemmed from Ricki's personal experience and grew organically from there. But we have definitely started a movement along with other writers and activists - Jennifer Block's book PUSHED was published at the same time we premiered, which was amazing. I think we are on a crusade to inform, but not to convince women to have natural births or homebirths. The modern woman wants information and options - but no one should feel pressured or regretful about their choices.
W&H: There seems to be a lot of women directing documentaries these days. Why do you think that is?
AE: I think that documentaries often have more substance than features and women are attracted to material that is potent and meaningful rather than commercially viable. Of course, there is also the fact that docs are low-budget and don't pay well (if at all!) so there is less competition.

But mostly I think that docs are usually self-generated passion projects where a director can have total control and women are organized, not afraid of hard work and always like a bit of control!
W&H: What's next for you?
AE: We are still opening the film in major cities (Chicago, Seattle, Boston, DC) so I am busy with that until April. Then, I am planning some vacation time with my family! Ricki and I are in the midst of writing a book based on the movie which will come out in April 2009 and a follow-up DVD that will accompany the book. We are also hard at work on our website - turning it into a resource for birth information and options. So, I will still be busy with all things BOBB for a while and then I plan to direct an independent feature film. I'd like to get back to working with actors and writers, which is truly what I love.
Film is available on netflix now