Birth. It’s a miracle. A rite of passage. Big business. And now, the subject of a documentary “The Business of Being Born,” which opened at San Francisco’s Roxie last night with star-studded hoopla, including appearances by director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake of “Hairspray” and talk show fame.
Epstein, fresh from a series of press interviews in New York City, was happy to chat by phone last week from the back of a taxicab, just moments after a somewhat disastrous movie screening at Roosevelt Hospital’s grand rounds. To say that “Business,” the unabashedly pro-midwife, not-so-pro hospital documentary met with dismay there is a gross understatement. “We were like a little rabbit,” Epstein said, “in front of a group of riflemen.”
But the film itself doesn’t come across like the uber-feminist, crunchy granola tract on the evil medical industry those Roosevelt docs feared. Instead, it’s a well-reasoned, disturbing, but ultimately uplifting look at childbirth and the forces that have turned the most natural of human experiences into a mass of medical interventions, skyrocketing C-sections and the second worst infant mortality rate in the modern world.
And the conclusion, in which Epstein, who discovered she was pregnant halfway through the filmmaking process, delivers her son, provides an unexpected twist that made the movie all the better — more honest, more real, more human.
“Our goal was to expose a really flawed maternity system that is going in the wrong direction,” says Epstein. “We set out to make the film to empower women and promote choice, and that’s really what it’s about for us. It’s not have a homebirth, have a midwife. But don’t just read ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting.’ That book tells you what to be afraid of. You’ve got to research this and be a real advocate for yourself. We want to give birth back to women, and if they don’t want just a traditional, elective C-section or hospital birth, if they want to have something more spiritual, know that it’s out there.”
Two thumbs up. The film, which was produced by Netflix’ indie production company, Red Envelope Entertainment, is at the Roxie now through Jan. 24 and it comes out on DVD Feb. 12 on, of course, Netflix.