Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady [disclosure: Grady is the daughter of my Politics Daily colleagues Bonnie Goldstein and James Grady] the film tells the story of an abortion clinic that opened at 12th & Delaware in Fort Pierce, Fla. in 1991. Eight years later, a pro-life Pregnancy Care Center opened up directly across the street. Today, 12th and Delaware is where pro-life and pro-choice passions intersect.
I have a love-hate relationship with documentaries. Too often they seem dragged down by meaningless details and repetitive footage. I want muscle, not fat. “12th and Delaware” is one documentary with an enviable BMI score.
I have a love-hate relationship with abortion too. Or rather, no relationship at all. Just a fog bank of ambiguity.
I’ve never conceived, so I haven’t stood in the shoes of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. The concept of pregnancy will always be abstract to me. I’m not the least bit religious. While I was relieved to have the option of abortion when I was 19, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more laissez faire. More live-and-let-live, which puts me on both sides of this debate. Mind your own business (pro-choice) and aw, have a heart (pro-life).
Bottom line: I don’t have a dog in this fight. In “12th and Delaware,” I was looking for something besides a tweak or confirmation of my thoughts on abortion. And that’s what I found.
How is it possible that both sides of this fight come off so sympathetically? While the hostile protesters induce a few cringes at first, so balanced and skillful is this portrait that by the end you’ve seen the human faces of both the protesters and the abortion providers. You’ve walked with both their struggles. Yes, a pro-lifer murdered Dr. George Tiller in 2009, but in the mind of many pro-lifers, murder happens multiple times every day.
The somber tone of “12th and Delaware,” augmented with a haunting score by David Darling, is entirely earned. The men and women in this film place themselves on the front lines of life and death, of ignorance, poverty and bottomless sorrow.
The only character who seems lightweight and a bit glib is (wouldn’t you just know it?) a Catholic priest. He gives sermons from his pulpit and now and then breezes by the intersection of 12th and Delaware. The priest’s detachment stands in stark contrast to the tireless director of the Pregnancy Care Center and also the nurturing abortion clinic owner and her husband.
Cartoon villains twirling their mustaches do not help us make sense of our world. They do not help us make hard choices. One can not understand a point of view without first respecting it. Witness Bruno Ganz’s phenomenal performance as Adolf Hitler in the 2004 German film, “Downfall,” about the last days inside the Nazi bunker in 1945.
The path of least resistance would be to portray Hitler as a monster, but Ganz did not do that. Some criticized him for humanizing Hitler. The actor’s response:
We all know that [Hitler] was a human being. The task was to create a three-dimensional picture of this man. It was to get as close to what this man really was — and had to be — to seduce a whole civilized nation into barbarism. To me it’s obvious that a demonic creature would never be able to lure a whole people into something evil like that.
I used to like the work of director Michael Moore, but his disregard for facts puts him too far over on the propaganda spectrum for my taste. Read author Kurt Loder’s piece titled ‘Heavily Doctored‘ on one of Moore’s most celebrated films: “Sicko.” At some point Moore’s films crossed over from journalism into the cheap laugh and the easy sneer.
The co-directors of “12th and Delaware” worked so hard to be fair to both sides that only at the end did I have a hint on which side Ewing and Grady stood. After the final frame fades to black, but before the credits roll, viewers learn that today pro-life centers outnumber abortion clinics five to one.
Perhaps that place of discomfort — where problems have no clear-cut answer, no ironclad right and wrong — is the whole point. Which would, in my mind, lay the onus on the doorstep of the pro-lifers, since only they seem certain they are correct. Only they believe the world must bend to their will.
How do we stop de-humanizing the people who differ from us? Perhaps by looking at reality instead of the concoction fed to us by partisans and organizations that serve as fronts for the political and corporate elite.
Maybe documentary films like “12th & Delaware” — a tight (and beautiful, in its own dark way) frame around clear glass — are the future. For all our sakes, I hope so.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]