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Tribeca 2016 Women Directors: Meet Amanda Micheli – ‘haveababy’

Tribeca 2016 Women Directors: Meet Amanda Micheli - 'haveababy'

Amanda Micheli is an award-winning director and cinematographer. She earned an Oscar nomination for “La Corona,” which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival before airing on HBO. In 2004, she premiered “Double Dare” at Toronto International Film Festival before its PBS and theatrical release. In 2014, Micheli produced “Slomo,” which was Oscar-shortlisted and won best short at the International Documentary Awards and SXSW. She also co-directed “One Nation Under Dog” for HBO and “The Save” for ESPN. (Press materials)

“haveababy” will premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival on April 14.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

AM: “haveababy” follows a controversial video contest sponsored by a successful in vitro fertilization clinic in Las Vegas. Some think an in vitro fertilization contest sounds crazy, but countless Americans desperate to start a family believe this social media experiment is their only hope. 

W&H: What drew you to this story?

AM: Over the last three years, my husband and I have struggled with our own infertility issues, during which he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I was shocked by my ignorance about my own fertility and bowled over by the financial and emotional costs of treatment. The family-building options for people like us are either reproductive medicine or adoption, both of which can be financially daunting and emotionally harrowing. And because reproductive medicine is dominated by for-profit clinics reliant on marketing rather than insurance contracts, patients are often left feeling particularly vulnerable and alone.

It was in researching possible solutions to my own situation that I came across Dr. Sher’s contest. This competition struck me as a perfectly absurd distillation of the overwhelming world of reproductive medicine in which I found myself; I knew right away that this was a film I had to make.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

AM: I want people walking out of the theater to not to take their fertility for granted, to realize that upwards of one in six couples worldwide are faced with an infertility diagnosis and to rethink any preconceived notions they might have had about these people and the challenges they face. There is a pervasive stereotype of an IVF patient as a wealthy career-woman who waited too long to have children, but there are millions of Americans from every social strata who struggle with infertility — both emotionally and financially — often in isolation. Well-meaning friends and family tend to offer up solutions, the most common of which is, “Why don’t you just adopt?” 

Adoption is a great option for family building but it is not a “cure” for infertility, and as the film shows, family planning in this situation is a highly personal and emotional territory, with no guarantees no matter what path you choose. Couples with infertility have a medical diagnosis that involves heartbreak and loss, for which there is no easy fix, and the cost of treatment creates a huge divide between the “haves” and “have nots.”

The film offers an intimate window into the ups and downs of this reality and I hope it will raise awareness about this often misunderstood condition as a part of the ever-evolving discussion around reproductive choice. 

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

AM: It is very challenging to plan the timing of film shoots around women’s reproductive cycles, so the unpredictable nature of procreation made this one a humdinger to plan for! And of course, like many independent filmmakers, we faced a real uphill battle financing for the film, even from organizations that focused on women’s health. I think that may speak to the common judgement that — at worst — IVF is seen as a luxury, or perhaps even a selfish path, or at best, that this is not a really “serious” medical condition that merits more attention and discussion. 

To be honest, I leaned toward some of these views myself before I experienced it first-hand, so I get it. Nonetheless, I was surprised by how challenging it was to get institutional support for this film.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

AM: I am a director-shooter and I own my own camera gear, so that allows me to be very nimble and to dive into projects I am passionate about without a lot of overhead. I also had incredible partners in my producer, Serin Marshall, and lead editor, Greg O’Toole, who remained committed to the project though our financial ups and downs. We got early seed funding and a finishing grant from the Catapult Film Fund, which was invaluable, and got help along the way from a few key individual donors, to whom I am eternally grateful. 

Other than that, the film was funded largely out of my own earnings from commercial work, with sweat equity from our team, and a successful Kickstarter campaign thanks to the help of WME and Production For Use. It really takes a village to get an indie doc like this out into the world!  

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

AM: That’s an interesting question. I suspect that my work, which often focuses on how women forge their identities — from aging rodeo cowgirls to the women struggling with infertility in this film — is hard to “brand” because it’s not seen as overtly issue-oriented, but it’s not pure entertainment either. 

To me, observing real women and men from diverse backgrounds grappling with life’s challenges as they unfold is always issue-oriented — as feminist film theorists say, “the personal is political.” My goal is to create empathy for people facing universal challenges in unique situations, rather than pointing fingers at a bad guy. 

I could have made a film attempting to vilifying the fertility industry and its marketing tactics, but I prefer to explore the human relationships within a complicated situation, and let the audience make up their own minds about the morality or ethics underpinning it. 

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

AM: Ha! Best advice was from Werner Herzog at a Q&A many years ago, when he advised a young filmmaker that the best training for documentaries was to play contact sports. Luckily, I played women’s rugby for over a decade, so that gave me lots of practice at getting my ass-kicked and getting back up again, which is often what this career feels like. But then there’s also that amazing sense of satisfaction when the game (or the project) is complete — it’s like no other feeling on earth, especially when it’s hard earned. 

The worst advice was probably the advice I gave myself, which was that as long as I decided about having a family before I was 40, I thought it would be fine. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made some very different choices. 

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors? 

AM: Play contact sports! Or at least, train for filmmaking with your whole mind and body, whatever that looks like for you. And don’t wait until you’re 40 to decide if you want to try to have a family! Seriously. 

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

AM: Oh man, there are so many. Perhaps partly to avoid having to pick amongst documentaries made by my personal friends, I’m going to have to pick a fiction film: “Red Road” by Andrea Arnold. Andrea’s films, partly due to the handheld shooting of her incredible cinematographer, always feel like finely-crafted documentaries to me. “Red Road” is an unsettling thriller and a view into the mind of a woman struggling with loss in the most unexpected and uncomfortable way and I will never forget it. 

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