The 2013 Austin Film Festival kicks off this Thursday, and making its world debut that night in the feature documentary competition is Political Bodies. Directed by Christopher Englese, the film covers last year’s legislative battles in Virginia over three controversial bills pertaining to women’s health and reproductive rights. Obviously this is a hot button issue and so perfect fodder for a doc, but Englese got to work on the story immediately thanks to a feeling he had about just how big the fight would get. Below he tells Nonfics about his interest in the issue and his decision to make a documentary about this major point in the national “War on Women.”
“I began to pay close to attention to Virginia politics in November of 2008, when Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win the state in 44 years. I believed that the expansion of the affluent D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia loosened the conservative grip over the state. Much to my surprise, Virginia elected a conservative ticket one year later when they brought Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to power. Governor McDonnell remained popular through 2011 and was quickly placed on everyone’s shortlist as Mitt Romney’s pick for Vice President.
“Around the same time, I began to follow three abortion-related bills, two of which were attached to non-controversial bills last minute, that were making their way through the state legislature. No longer was the argument over one’s constitutional right to an abortion but instead framed as the safety and health of the mother during the process and the rights of the fetus once sperm meets egg. What I couldn’t find in my research was the precipitating factors that led to this sudden need for immediate safety changes and a full understanding of what it meant to give a fetus the full rights of the 14th amendment.
“Texas had recently passed major barriers to abortion access with little to no protest, but I felt Virginia would be different. Call it a hunch, intuition, gut feeling… Whatever it was, I was right. I spent the next few months researching the bills, the lawmakers and the women who would be directly impacted. I became acutely aware of the optics of being another white male trying to talk about women’s health. I decided to use this opportunity to reach out to women in Virginia, lawmakers, activists and medical professionals, in hope of giving them an unfiltered and unbiased platform to express their thoughts, fears and anger. As the hubbub over abortion access grew across the country, I knew this story had to be told.
“Without hesitation, we packed our bags and car and hit the road. What happened next was anyone’s guess but we knew it would certainly be worth it. This film could have taken many paths but I decided to focus on the three bills making their way through the legislature and the women trying to stop them. I refused to debate abortion, its legality and morality, as both are answered by the Supreme Court and 1st Amendment. What we witnessed was the beginning of a country-wide movement where women stood up for their reproductive destiny. Some battles were won and others lost and some are still to come. This is just one of many.”
Political Bodies screens at AFF this Thursday at 9:45 and again on October 30th at 4pm. Check out the festival listing here and the extended trailer below. For more info and updates, visit the film’s website.