12th & Delaware is a window into the American abortion war

0 Posted by - January 5, 2011 - Blog, Reviews, Screen

12th & Delaware

Too often on this side of the border, American issues become reduced to pundits and politicians on the nightly news. The documentary 12th & Delaware depicts a corner of America few Canadians ever see — a place where all the rhetoric and soundbites fade away before the real, everyday struggle for the soul of the United States.

On one side of the street, Candace runs A Woman’s World Medical Center, a for-profit abortion clinic in Fort Pierce, Fla. On the other side, Anne is the executive director of a crisis pregnancy centre which seeks to provide assistance and guidance to women interested in alternatives to abortion. 12th & Delaware is a smaller setting for a nation-wide debate on abortion.

Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (The Boys of Baraka and Jesus Camp) work hard to let these women and the cast of characters who surround them tell their own stories. There is no narration in the film. Ewing said the nature of narration is to highlight a director’s choices — a director’s slant. It’s hard enough to be balanced in treating a topic like this, she stated, without adding a “voice of God.” She sees the films she and Grady make as “mirrors we hold up to the viewer.”

Sometimes we see faces in that mirror in 12th and Delaware, and sometimes we do not. We see faces of the young women who enter the pregnancy care centre and allow themselves to be filmed. We do not see the faces of the young women who go to the clinic across the street, who according to Ewing are not so willing to be recorded. Ewing sees this as a reflection of the “shame, embarrassment, stigma” which she feels continues to surround the issue of abortion in the United States.

We see faces of protesters who stand outside the clinic clutching rosaries and praying for those within. We see the face of an old woman, scolding Candace’s husband as he pulls out of the driveway in his bright yellow Mustang to pick up the doctors, whose service is the heart of the clinic’s trade. We do not see the faces of the abortionists, who are brought back with white sheets over them to protect their identities. What we don’t see is every bit as important as what we do in unfolding the story on both sides of the street, and is far more powerful than what we simply hear in narration.

While Grady and Ewing have carefully tried to preserve their neutrality in 12th and Delaware, audiences and reviewers have not often shared this spirit. The film has provoked impassioned responses from all sides of the debate, from the Family Research Council to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Ewing isn’t worried about the controversy, or the differing interpretations of the film’s intent. “Once we make a film, I’m done with it,” she said. The commentators and reviewers can “use it for any purpose they want.” And use it they do.

The corner of 12th & Delaware in Fort Pierce, FL (View Larger Map)

12th and Delaware has been hailed for its balanced transcendence of the usual back-and-forth bickering, decried as thinly disguised pro-choice propaganda, and criticized as too sympathetic to pro-life activists. There are as many opinions on it in the American press as there are viewers at its screenings.

Now, with its recent appearance on HBO Canada (which will be showing it again in January) and its screening as part of the Cinema Politica network, 12th & Delaware is being put in front of a Canadian audience. “Canada is such an interesting place to show films,” observed Ewing, who feels that American discourse has “gone off the rails” compared to much of the rest of the developed world. She commented that Canadian audiences bring some sanity to the discussion with their comments and questions.

Beyond what they can bring to the film, however, Ewing thinks there is also something for them to take away — “a cautionary tale for Canada” from their neighbours to the south. Whether the tale is a caution or an inspiration will be for Canadians to decide, when they see their own faces in the mirror at the corner of 12th & Delaware.

Originally published in The Concordian.

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