Lake of Fire Inside the Beltway
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 22, 2007 at 03:53:43 AM EST
Lake of Fire, the most ambitious film documentary on the politics of abortion ever made has been appearing at film festivals around the U.S. for the past few months. I have written that the film has the potential to rearrange how this volatile subject is discussed in the U.S. for many reasons -- one of which is the spotlight shined on the Christian terrorism practiced by the violent wing of the antiabortion movement.

The Washington, DC premeir of Lake of Fire will take place on June 15th as part of Silverdocs, a documentary film festival sponsored by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel. Afterwards, if you hear unusual whirring and gulping sounds, it may be the heads of the Inside the Beltway crowd, spinning and expressing their confusion that political reality turned out differently than expected.

 This may be particularly true for certain antiabortion evangelicals who have been advising the Democratic Party not to talk about reproductive rights and separation of church and state, while encouraging candidates to chase "faith" voters.  Hmmm.  Of course, it should go without saying that voters prefer pols who know what they are talking about and are able to communicate that knowledge with conviction -- over pols who are overly-scripted and openly-evasive about matters about which people deeply care, and often know a great deal about.  Pols of Faith are fine as far as that goes, but if this recent report from The Chicago Tribune is any indication, such matters as reproductive rights seem to be about to be lost in the current fashion of pols parading faith as a political commodity. While there is nothing really new about politicians speaking with authentic, or at least seemingly authentic conviction about how faith informs his or her views, this will not serve as as a sufficient answer to the actual matters of public policy and their practical implementation that we expect national leaders to be able to address.

My hunch is that Lake of Fire will be a catalyst in the rapidly changing political environment as we head into the 2008 election season. Beyond its theatrical release, Variety reports that the Sundance Channel has purchased the TV rights for the film.

Below is a slightly revised and updated reprise of a post from February in which I speculate a bit about the possible impact of the film. But much has happened since, then, not the least of which is the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling legalizing bans on so-called "partial birth abortion." Also, the court's ruling in NOW vs. Scheidler, led antiabortion militants such as Fr. Farnk Pavone of Priest for Life to call for opening a new chapter in antiabortion militancy.  Whether that happens, of course remains to be seen.  

Fire in the Minds of Film Buffs

The forthcoming Hollywood documentary film Lake of Fire, about the politics of abortion in the U.S., is already setting minds and passions on fire.

This was on vivid display at a pre-release screening at the  prestigious Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. It is probably a radical understatement to say that the film takes a highly original approach to the subject -- one that has the potential to reshape the debate on abortion.  I've noted that at least one religious right leader already seems to be concerned about losing control of the debate, and is trying to portray the film as sensationalistic, and not to be taken seriously.  Is it?  That will no doubt be an ongoing point of contention. But however one thinks of it -- the horse has already left the barn. The film deliberately fits none of the well established narratives about abortion.  How everyone with a stake in the politics of abortion adjusts to the new reality will have a lot to do with how the politics of abortion evolves in the run-up to the '08 elections. Lake of Fire's official release date is October 3, 2007

Early indications are that at this time next year, we may be discussing whether it was right that director Tony Kaye did or didn't receive the Oscar for Best Documentary.

A film writer reported some intriguing audience reactions from the New York screening:  

The air was electric at the Museum of the Moving Image's preview screening of Tony Kaye's entirely offensive and altogether brilliant new abortion documentary "Lake of Fire," Josh Rothkopf's selection for its "Critics Choice: Great Documentaries" series. The 152 minute, black and white film (which features footage of two actual abortions, as well as close-ups of their remnants) insists on challenging viewers on all ends of the spectrum, and a good portion of the audience was predictably pissed off, as audience members hissed and incredulously laughed throughout the film, and lobbing angry questions at the director during the Q&A that followed.

"Wasn't this film anti-Christian?" one furious viewer asked, while another pointed out that the reproductive rights movement was trying to stray away from the clinical notions of abortion that Kaye forces his audience to consider. Kaye, seemed remarkably shy for a director who courted controversy for his "American History X" by placing a full-page ad in Variety to denounce it (because of changes that were made that he didn't approve), stated that he wished to avoid offering any easy compromises or simplistic propaganda, instead opting to show the issue as an endlessly complicated morass of moral choices in which all sides appear to be right, and where there is no room for compromise.

Indeed. Such a film makes it difficult to simplify the issue. For example, the film follows a woman who allowed her entire experience from counseling - through the procedure - to the aftermath to be filmed, has complex feelings about it. In the end she feels she did the right thing and says so.  Naturally, any such message even seeing the light of day is disturbing to the religious right.  Also disturbing to the religious right will be the detailed discussion of the ideology of domestic terrorism presented in inteviews with convicted murderers of doctors, Paul Hill and Michael Griffin.

Clearly, the way that the film seeks to give equal credence to the antiabortion point of view will discomfit many prochoicers as well, as the above report indicates.

It is imperative that supporters of reproductive rights be prepared to take reaction to this film into account. Similarly, Democratic pols who have fallen under the sway of antiabortion evangelicals suchas Jim Wallis will need to consider that it may not be possible to tamp down discussion of reproductive rights as we go into the '08 elections in the ways that they had planned.  Progressives and prochoice religious leaders will also need to take the film into account as it moves through the body politic. And the sooner that process begins, the better.

its always possible that the film will have no impact at all. But every indication suggests otherwise.


by Frederick Clarkson on Tue May 22, 2007 at 04:09:48 AM EST

The trouble is getting widespread viewership.  However, the premise sounds very promising: the issue is hopelessly complicated and therefore must remain personal.

by montpellier on Wed May 23, 2007 at 10:43:08 AM EST
since the Sundance channel has picked it up, wide viewership will probably not be an issue, regardless of what happens in theaters, where I would guess it will not get past the art house circuit (but ya never know). I saw some reports of the director wanting to stage some major disucssion on campuses and in places where the matter has been particularly volatile -- like Pensacola, Florida, site of two murder of doctors among other crimes, but I really don't know what their plan for the film will be.  


by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 23, 2007 at 12:04:26 PM EST

How did the screening go at the Berkshire Film Fest? What were the reactions and what kind of audience was it?

by RevDeb on Tue May 22, 2007 at 06:13:00 AM EST
wasn't able to go at the last minute. If I had, you would have heard about it here.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue May 22, 2007 at 12:53:38 PM EST

I live three blocks from the AFI theater in Silver Spring, and I've put this on my calendar. I think it's important to have a discussion about abortion, and it's not a simple subject. I'm very much pro-choice, but I do understand the other side, even as I don't agree with them.
An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.
Konrad Adenauer
by AppleCider on Mon May 28, 2007 at 09:26:22 PM EST
Let us know what you think.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon May 28, 2007 at 10:38:31 PM EST

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