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Review: Call Jane
by Karen Pecota

Phyllis Nagy, USA 2022

It's the 49th anniversary of United States Supreme Court decision to uphold a woman's right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade, but a move to dismantle the court decision is currently underway.

Filmmaker Phyllis Nagy uses her directing skills in collaboration with screenwriters Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, and together they present to the film audience a full-feature narrative, partially based on true events surrounding the Jane Collective in CALL JANE. The Jane Collective members provided roughly 12,000 abortions during a four-year period through their clandestine organization. Safety, along with tender-love and care for the women they serviced was their goal at all cost. While it changed the lives of many women from all walks of life, they are proud of the fact that they did not lose one woman seeking their help.

Nagy confides, "When one of our producers Robbie Brenner sent the script for CALL JANE, I knew that I had to direct it, but also knew I had to fear directing it." Adding, "Holding fear and fearlessness close would keep me honest." Continuing, "My impulse was to create a piece that allowed for each character's point of view to thrive and be communicated without moral judgement but with the kind of messy, complex, and contradictory behaviors that encourage empathy in audiences." How did she do this? Nagy took the seriousness of the material to invite people to join a conversation; but she notes that in order to have a conversation one has to be a good listener. She said, "You can't listen while you are bludgeoning your audience into submission.”

Nagy tells the story of an ordinary woman who finds herself in rather extraordinary circumstances and denied all personal choice at a critical time in history. Nagy took a year to carefully fine tune an intensely political narrative that isn't in a political arena but could be. She explains, "To explore the sobering and painful factual history of choice in America while honoring the remarkable contributions of women like the ‘Janes’ also demanded a careful tone." Nagy wanted to present a strong viewpoint but not with the intent that the audience hold the same point of view. A task overwhelming in and of itself.

Nagy confesses that the ways she held herself honest was to examine her own beliefs and feelings about the various narratives that CALL JANE presents––abortion, race, women's rights, and the progress or regression of each almost half a century later. Nagy concludes, "CALL JANE is a meditation on choice––personal, political, transactional, familial––and that it could be nothing else for me but a constantly evolving debate, that I hope we will be having long past the film's release."

Actress Sigourney Weaver (Virginia) shares of her take away from the film, "It's reliving history. When Roe v. Wade was passed, three of the judges who passed it were Nixon's conservative judges. But they understood that the right of a woman to decide for herself whether to bear a child was fundamental to her dignity and to her person and to her freedom and to her health." Continuing, "It [the film] so beautifully shows that it's just about women, and in this case, women rescuing other women from hopelessness and danger. Having lived through that time, believe me we do not want to go back to that."

Actress Elizabeth Banks (Joy) did a lot of research prior to choosing the project and comments, "I really thought this was an opportunity for us to shine a light on that activism [for the project/film to discuss abortion rights] and importantly, the camaraderie, of the women involved. [We] celebrate the women who came together to solve and to evolve and to help each other." Adding, "...I hope more men join the conversation because Men are responsible here, let's get them involved. There’re some really supportive men in the film as well and I love that about the relationships we have in the movie and what that says about where we could go with this conversation."

Synopsis: It's 1968 and while the United States as a nation is experiencing growing pains of racial injustice, political upheaval, and anti-war protests, a Chicago suburban housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks) leads an ordinary life with her husband, Dean (Cory Michael Smith) and daughter, Charlotte (Grace Edwards).

Joy's second pregnancy is the cause of a life-threatening condition in which she is forced to navigate a medical institution giving her no viable options. Frightened, Joy's overwhelming journey seeking help leads her to the Janes who provide her with a safe haven and realistic solutions necessary for her condition. Joy enters into an unfathomable process of service that changes not only her life but that of her family. (Karen Pecota)

The film thanks all the courageous members of The Jane Collective, who gave women a choice at a time when they had none.