Game Changers is a Yahoo Entertainment video interview series highlighting the diverse creators disrupting Hollywood — and the pioneers who paved the way.
Eliza Hittman knew that it would be an uphill climb to make her latest film.
“It’s divisive. I didn't expect it would be an easy movie to make. I didn’t expect it would be an easy movie to finance. I didn't expect that it would be an easy movie to find an audience,” the filmmaker told Yahoo Entertainment (watch above).
The movie, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, follows 17 year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who discovers she is pregnant, and travels from Pennsylvania to New York City to get an abortion. The narrative covers the topic from a perspective Hittman says is rarely explored on the screen.
“The films that I had seen about abortion, and dealt with the representation of abortion on screen, had all been told from male points of views and male lenses,” said Hittman. “I really wanted to reclaim that narrative. I think there are a lot of films that exist in the world that explore how hard it is to get an illegal abortion in 1970, and I wanted to show audiences that actually it’s really hard to get a legal abortion in 2021.”
Part of reclaiming this narrative was ensuring that the experience of women was portrayed as authentically as possible. “I went through this really long process of gaining trust from Planned Parenthood and being allowed to have access to the facility, to tour it, to talk to social workers, to meet with doctors, to meet with nurses and to just walk though the experience from the point of view of the character,” Hittman explains.
Flanigan’s performance in the film is raw and vulnerable, especially during the intake scene where Autumn answers a questionnaire (which also inspired the film’s name). Not only did Hittman get permission to film inside of a real Planned Parenthood, but she also cast an actual social worker for the role.
While critical response for Never Rarely Sometimes Always has been positive (it received seven Independent Spirit Awards nominations and a 99 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the focus on abortion has turned off some audiences — including Academy Award voter Keith Merrill, who emailed Hittman and declared that he wouldn’t be watching her movie citing, “Zero interest in watching a woman cross state lines so someone can murder her unborn child.”
“I wonder how many Academy voters refused to watch it for political reasons, because it doesn’t align with their ideologies? It’s sad to me because if you won’t watch a movie about abortion, then will you watch a movie about homosexuality? Probably not. Will you watch a movie about Black Lives Matter, probably not. And these are the people who are holding back progress,” said Hittman.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the third feature film from Hittman, who got her start directing theater. Beach Rats was released in 2017, and her first film, It Felt Like Love was released in 2013. In the early days, Hitman had to get creative with smaller budgets and limited resources — something that helped her to find her voice.
“It Felt Like Love was a micro-budget narrative that I shot for under $30,000, so I’ve never had a certain kind of support, and I’ve never had to ask for permission either,” said Hittman.
Hittman is calling the shots, and as a woman who directs, she’s aware of those who may look at her 5-foot-1 frame and try to challenge her position.
“I’ve been on those sets where some male DP has unfulfilled dreams of being a director,” she explained. “I’ve been in situations where there is a lot of wrestling for power, and it’s not necessary. It’s hard enough to make a movie, and you need to be surrounded by people who are going to lift you up and lift your vision up.”
Of the top 100 highest-grossing films in 2020, 16 percent were directed by women. This is up from 12 percent in 2019. And this year marks the first time that two women are nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Director category.
For Hittman, the 2021 Ocsar nods for women are “a huge step forward.” She just hopes the trend continues.
“I am in an independent community largely, and have a lot of female friends who are filmmakers, so from my perspective there are a lot of women out there making work, I just don’t know if the industry is interested in that work,” said Hittman.
— Produced by Jen Kucsak, Edited by John Santo.
Watch the trailer:
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