Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady Wanted to Examine the Abortion Debate From Both Sides
What is the film about, and what drew you to it?
12th & Delaware takes place on a single corner in Florida, the corner of 12th and Delaware. And on one side of the street is an abortion clinic, and on the other side of the street is a pro-life pregnancy clinic. And Heidi and I spent a year on this corner filming what was going on. The film captures the moment of decision of a woman who's deciding whether to have an abortion, or to continue with her pregnancy, and the forces on either side of the street of 12th & Delaware that are exerting influence over that decision. We thought that was a very intense and important moment to capture in a woman's life, and it could be captured through these two centers.
How were you able to gain such full access to the clinic you shot at?
I think for the pro-life clinic, they believed that this kind of press could help their cause, that when you actually look deeply at a woman who's making the choice between an abortion and keeping the pregnancy that things are a lot murkier than one suspects. And I think that they wanted to use this film as a way to get their message out.
One of the interesting things about the film is that it remains unbiased throughout. Was that intentional?
We try to be as unbiased as possible. Our goal is to make observational films, and to let the audience make up their own minds. Of course, we're human beings and we do come to the table with our own experiences and opinions. But we try and hold our point of view back as much as possible. That way the audience will have to look within themselves and ask themselves questions.
What was your approach to the women?
We approached them with empathy and gentleness. And surprisingly, more women than we suspected agreed to participate. We were dealing with mostly young people. And I think they could tell that we were understanding and empathetic of their situation, and that we would be gentle and have care in our presentation of them.
What struck you initially about these women when you started filming?
The women we met were having one of the worst days of their lives, and we happened to be there for it. So it was intensely personal, and it was really a gift for them to participate. They all made an impact on me. After we filmed inside the abortion clinic, I was really wowed by the bravery and the strength of the owners of the abortion clinic. Because there's a lot of fear, and there's a siege mentality when you're inside the abortion clinic. And you kind of ask yourself why they open their doors every single day, why anyone would do this job. And so I was impressed by their devotion. They are all strong, brave women who shared their stories with us.
When you set out to make a film, how much of it ends up as you had originally planned?
This film turned out quite different than we expected, which is one of the challenges and one of the beauties of making nonfiction films. If you fight it, your film can feel contrived. I think you have to surrender to the experience and surrender to the story, and know when it's time to surrender and know when it's time to fight. And just sort of go with those instincts. And in this case it took us quite a few months to figure out that this was a story about planting ourselves on a corner and letting life pass in front of a camera rather than going and searching for it. We could not control it whatsoever. We just surrendered to this process which meant learning how to be patient. And neither of us are particularly patient. [CHUCKLES]
Do you feel like enough of the story has been told? Is there more to say?
There are endless interesting, fascinating stories surrounding the issue of abortion in this country. I think we gave one angle on the topic. We've learned while showing the film that people are very uncomfortable about it. So it's a challenging subject and a tough issue to take on. We really tried to humanize it and tell a rich story so people could leave all of their preconceived notions and politics at the door. I don't know if we achieved that. We'll have to see how people react.
It's a very interesting time to make this film because, if you believe polls, more people identify themselves as pro-life than pro-choice for the first time in this country's history. So something has shifted. There's a change in mentality. No one exactly knows why. So we think it's a really good time to look at this subject and talk about it with each other and see where we're going and how we feel, and just stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Hopefully this film is one step toward that.