2nd Annual rePRO Film Festival Highlights The Urgency Of Reproductive Justice

An image of Teodora Vásquez in Celina Escher’s “Fly So Far”. This award-winning documentary focuses on the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, and follows the story of Teodora who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after having a stillbirth at nine months pregnant.

If you aren’t get familiar with the rePRO Film Festival, there is no time like the present, especially given what is happening regarding bodily autonomy, reproductive justice and maternal healthcare in the United States. The 2nd annual rePRO Film Festival runs from August 9-18, and the films being showcased underscore the urgency of the issues highlighted, beyond just this particular week. And given that the event is virtual, passes are still available and you have plenty of time to dig in and watch these films online.

Through film and conversation, rePRO Film Fest utilizes the power of storytelling as a catalyst for knowledge, intention, and action – spotlighting societal issues and advocating for women’s reproductive justice, as well as encouraging active participation and establishing a more equitable future for generations to come.

The 2021 lineup of films and conversations includes three feature films and twelve short films that explore a range of topics including equal access to abortion, criminalization of bodily autonomy, gender stereotyping, reproductive health concerns, postpartum depression, reproductive justice for women of color, and more. 

Feature films playing at the festival will include Leah Galant and Maya Cueva’s ON THE DIVIDE, a documentary that premiered at Tribeca earlier this year about three Latinx people’s weaving stories related to the last abortion clinic on the U.S/Mexico border; Celina Escher’s FLY SO FAR, a documentary that premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival about the true story of a 9 month miscarriage that led to Teodora Vásquez being accused of killing her own baby by police in El Salvador, and Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt’s BEI BEI, a documentary that follows a pregnant Chinese immigrant who faces 45 years-to-life in prison when she survives a suicide attempt and her baby doesn’t.

A still image of one of the main protagonists featured in directors Leah Galant and Maya Cueva’s “On The Divide”, which follows the story of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, these three are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined.

The festival will also hold a special work-in-progress event, which will include an exclusive sneak peek from the film and conversation with the filmmaker, for the upcoming feature documentary on uterine fibroids called RED ALERT: THE FIGHT AGAINST FIBROIDS, which focuses on the difficult prognosis in women that leads to nearly 300,000 hysterectomy surgeries in the United States yearly.

100% of all rePRO Film Fest films are directed by individuals using she/her pronouns, while 67% are directed by BIPOC or AAPI individuals. All filmmakers are also being paid to screen their films. 

rePRO Film Fest was founded by Mallory Martin, Lela Meadow-Conner and Debby Samples, who together have more than 40+ years of combined film festival experience. The trio has since been joined by women’s reproductive rights leader Jill Lafer, the former board chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and entrepreneur. 

The founders believe that storytelling through film is a powerful entry point into dialog and discourse around reproductive justice. All too often, these issues become politicized and the people behind these lived experiences are forgotten.

We spoke with the three founders to learn more about the films in the lineup this year, the themes being explored, the urgency of this year’s event, and why reproductive rights cannot stop at abortion rights.

An image from the animated documentary “Umbilical”, from director Danski Tang. It follows the story of how a mother’s abusive relationship with her husband shapes the daughter’s experiences in a boarding school in China.

How are you all feeling about the 2nd rePRO Film Festival, given what is happening in the US right now with abortion rights and the upcoming supreme court case that is potentially threatening Roe v Wade? 

Of course we celebrate having exceptional women in power like Kamala, Stacey, and AOC, but also, we must recognize that in so many parts of the US, women’s bodily autonomy is severely at stake. So while we may have supporters in the White House, as you mentioned, what could happen in the Supreme Court and the individual states is terrifying, and has the potential to impact multiple generations.. It continues to be an uphill battle, and it’s important for us to pay attention to not only what’s happening in the Supreme Court, but what’s happening at the state and local levels as well. That’s where a lot of the grassroots efforts are happening, and that’s what we aim to amplify during rePRO Film Fest.

How did the idea for the festival initially come about? 

Our founding organization, mama.film, was given a grant from the Dr. George R. Tiller Memorial Fund for the Advancement of Women’s Health. Due to the pandemic, what was supposed to be an in-person film series in Wichita, KS, became a virtual film fest – available across the US. Along the way, (about 8 weeks from founding to fruition in summer of 2020), we were connected with incredible people – advocates, activists, storytellers – who helped to build the rePRO community and encouraged us to keep going!

Fly so Far – Trailer from CAT&Docs on Vimeo.

How do you choose the final selection from the submissions you get? 

Though we have had filmmakers reach out to us directly, we have not yet opened up a wide call for submissions, but hope to be able to do so in the future. We’re lucky enough to all be tied to the film festival industry in many ways, and have used our networks of colleagues and other festival programmers to help recommend reproductive justice films they’ve seen in the last year – among attending other virtual film festivals ourselves to curate the program.

One of the best things that came out of our first year of rePRO is the family tree we’ve built of amazing women and men fighting for reproductive justice in all aspects, and that reflects in the films we select. rePRO Film Fest is not just about Pro-Life, but about women (cis, trans, and non-binary inclusive) taking back control over their own bodies in every way – whether that’s through abortion rights and access, female sexuality, healthcare assertiveness, or simply being an ally for those experiencing reproductive injustices that might not be your own lived experience. 

The lineup features such a diverse array of conversations around reproductive justice and rights. Can you tell us about some of the other reproductive topics, aside from abortion, that are being highlighted in the films?

We are so glad you asked this because women’s reproductive heath and justice goes far beyond abortion, although that one issue tends to take over and politicize it all. Other topics include stories about the inequity around pregnancy and birth for black women, period poverty, postpartum, literally holding a mirror up to ourselves, and an inspirational story about activists coming together through song. One of our throughlines for this year’s festival is how the power of storytelling –  be it on stage, on film, in print – creates a more accessible way for us to build community around topics that are far too often underrepresented in mainstream media.

An image from the short film “The Gallery That Destroys All Shame” from directors/producers Aurora Brachman and Jessie Zinn. This film spotlights a group of womxn attending a workshop in Los Angeles to learn to “take back the speculum,” but as the night unfolds, they disclose their complicated relationships to their vaginas. The Gallery That Destroys All Shame will have you thinking about your own relationship with your body.

In the feature documentaries being shown, there are intersections of issues such as immigration, racism, religion, and incarceration to name a few. Why do you believe it is important for more viewers to get familiar with how interconnected reproductive rights are to so many other areas of life?

So often these issues can feel abstract to people not directly affected. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic we are currently living through, it is that we have learned that no one is exempt from the chaos of life. As we went through 2020, and now 2021, the imbalance of power came racing to the forefront of our mainstream media, and it gave it a face, a name, and a lived experience. We learned the best tool to keep ourselves and others safe from things out of our control, is to get what we can in our control. And that has to start with individuals inclusively using their voices, platforms, and voting rights to help lift up the most vulnerable in our society.

Film is a great equalizer, and provides a safe space for people to learn more about a subject, and hopefully get involved. The difference between reproductive rights and reproductive justice is that without having equal access to reproductive rights, there is no justice. And this is the lived experience for many marginalized communities – including women of color, women with disabilities, women with low incomes, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

What are some of the call-to-action sessions being held during the festival?

With 100% of our 2021 films directed by individuals using she/her pronouns, and 67% directed by BIPOC or AAPI individuals, we have an incredible lineup of people and points-of-view to listen to and learn from. To that end, we will talk to many of the filmmakers participating in the festival, including the teams behind our three feature films: FLY SO FAR, BEI BEI, and ON THE DIVIDE. Topics will include miscarriage and feticide laws around the globe, the inequitable experiences of immigrants and  women of color around issues related to reproductive health, the state of the State of Texas,  We will also highlight our three beneficiary organizations Black Women’s Health Imperative, The Lilith Fund and No More Secrets, and the incredible work they are doing. 

We also love that the festival is inclusive of trans and non-binary stories. Why is this a crucial part of the reproductive rights conversation right now?

Trans and non-binary people are unjustly represented and scutinized around their reprodutive health. We live in a world that is at the beginning stages of recognizing the antiquated nature of the binary spectrum that, for the most part, we were all taught. Until we all gain bodily autonomy, none of us will truly have it. Not only is the reproductive rights and reproductive justice movement too large of an intersection to pair off into segments, but without inclusivity being at the heart of movements it would be like treading water. We would get nowhere. 

What do you hope attendees and viewers will take away from the films being shown this time around?

We love to end our conversations with hope! We hope that attending rePRO Film Fest will inspire women and men to gain a better understanding about what reproductive justice really means, that it goes well beyond what gets sensationalized in the headlines,  that there are real people behind these stories, and that half the population of the world has a uterus and with that comes many things! We hope people will recognize that the future of reproductive justice lies in our hands and there are many ways to become active participants for change. 

You can catch and watch all the films at the rePRO Film Festival by clicking HERE.