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Joyce Chopra Revisits First Reviews and Nude Beaches at Special ‘Joyce at 34’ Screening

Joyce Chopra Revisits First Reviews and Nude Beaches at Special 'Joyce at 34' Screening

READ MORE: Stream Joyce Chopra’s Vintage Feminist Short ‘Joyce at 34’ (Exclusive)

In 1972, filmmaker Joyce Chopra documented her final days of pregnancy and her first few months of motherhood. Hoping to continue with her career, Chopra looked at the struggles many mothers face when choosing between staying at home to raise their child and trying to pursue their jobs. The result was “Joyce at 34,” a remarkable autobiographical documentary that looks at glaring, unfair issues that are still present today. The film raises an incredible amount of questions about the topic, heralded as both a seminal documentary and an important feminist text.
Last night, the SundanceNow Doc Club held a special screening of “Joyce at 34” at the IFC Center in New York. Chopra was in attendance and did a Q&A after the film was finished. Read the highlights from the talk below:

On what inspired her and how the film was made.

“A friend of mine, she was a sociologist, said to me when I was eight months pregnant, ‘You’re in a unique position. See if your relationship with your mother changes when you become a mother.’ I said, ‘That is so narcissistic. Are you crazy? To make a film about me?’ And then a little bit later I went, “Oh that’s a pretty good idea!”
Chopra clarified how the film formed as it went along, saying, “When making the film, I kept wanting to end it when Sarah [the baby] walked, but she didn’t walk until she was 14 months. But that was okay, we shaped it as we went along. I would try to think, ‘What scenes should we use?’ It was up to me.” She added later, “It became quite clear early on that the movie was not about me and my mother. We just hoped that the scenes would show the conflict.”

Her thoughts on choosing between motherhood and a career.

When asked about what she thinks the answer is to the dilemma of motherhood and maintaining a career, Chopra joked, “Oh please don’t ask me that!” She continued to say, “There really is no solution… The movie mostly got fine reviews when it was released, but one person said, who I thought was right on, ‘It was very easy for Joyce because she’s middle class and her husband stays home. He’s a writer.’ That’s very true. I was very lucky. He was able to set his own hours to help take care of our baby.” Chopra later added how the dynamic wasn’t necessarily easy, saying, “We fought a lot. It continued. But he was a good dad.”

How she got into documentary filmmaking.

“I did a film called ‘Smooth Talk’ with Laura Dern. It was my first feature. That’s what I really wanted to do to begin with. Then I was looking for a job in New York and I stumbled into [Richard] Leacock and [DA] Pennebaker. They asked me if I had ever seen a documentary before and I pretended I had but I had no idea. They sat me down and showed me a film called ‘Primary’ about the Kennedy-Humphrey fight and I had no idea why it was original. It was the first film made with handheld equipment. You used to have to plug cameras into a wall. It was accidental! I’m a great believer in accidents.”

On a memorable scene where mothers debate.

In one remarkable scene, Chopra shows her mother and her mother’s friends at lunch as they discuss being working moms. Things got tense quickly, turning into a heated debate which Chopra was ecstatic about: “I knew my mother’s friends met once every three or four months, but I had no idea that they would have that conversation. I turned to one of them after the lunch and asked, ‘Did you ever have conflicts?’ They have had lunch for 25 years together, since school, and they had never once discussed their feelings on working as a parent. So they did that and we were so excited!… They were thrilled [with the film]. They could have been talking for hours but we stopped filming.”

Her daughter’s reaction to the film.

“My daughter wrote something that I just found. She was in college and was asked to write something autobiographical. She wrote, ‘I was born on film. I have been born on film in many countries. I have been born in Russia.’ So I left her a message today and said, ‘You’re about to be born again today at the IFC Center.’ But people ask her what does it feel like, since she’s seen the film, and she says, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know any other way except to have footage of it.'”

On being naked in the film. 

Chopra allowed many intimate details to be shown in the film, including shots of her naked. One scene shows the child’s birth in full detail, which led to an awkward encounter: “My partner Claudia [Weill] who shot it, her parents are rather pretentious. Tom [Cole, her husband] and I rented a house on the Cape up in Wellfleet when Sarah was about a year and a half. It was a nude beach and we thought we’d be very brave and go down to the nude beach and up towards the back where the dunes are. I look down to the beach and see Claudia’s parents walking fully naked. So we start to cover ourselves and they walk right up to us. Her father says, in his french accent, ‘Why are you covering yourself? You showed everything on public television!'”

You can watch “Joyce at 34” on SundanceNow Doc Club’s site right now

READ MORE: Larry Clark, Harmony Korine and the Cast of ‘Kids’ Talk Sex and Skateboarding at 20th Anniversary Reunion

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