Two movies with anti-abortion messages seek distribution
Mainstream Hollywood rarely tackles the subject of abortion, and when it does, it's usually when a character quietly opts not to have one. But two new independently financed movies — a small-town mystery and a psychological thriller — are bringing an emphatically anti-abortion slant to the hot-button issue.
“Doonby,” a $2-million film backed by an anonymous financier, tells the story of a mysterious drifter played by John Schneider (Bo Duke from “The Dukes of Hazzard”) who quickly makes himself indispensable to a small Texas town. The secret of Doonby’s past lies in the only person in town he doesn’t like — a gynecologist named Dr. Cyrus Reaper (Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez).
Meanwhile, “The Life Zone,” a $1-million thriller written by New Jersey Republican State Senate candidate Kenneth Del Vecchio, follows three pregnant women who have been abducted from abortion clinics and are being forced to carry their babies to term by a shadowy jailer (Robert Loggia) and a barren female physician named Dr. Wise (Blanche Baker, perhaps best known as the older sister in "Sixteen Candles").
Both films have supernatural themes and a third-act twist that conveys an anti-abortion moral. Neither of them yet has theatrical distribution.
“The Life Zone” was financed by Robert and Joyce Borneman, a couple who own a chain of jewelry stores in suburban New York. Its first public screening was held June 4 at a New Jersey film festival Del Vecchio owns, the Hoboken International Film Festival. Del Vecchio has written and produced more than 10 other low-budget films through his Justice For All Productions, most of them released on video and cable, including 2009’s “O.B.A.M. Nude,” about a cocaine-snorting Communist who becomes president, and 2010’s “Fake,” about an art forger.
Securing distribution is an uphill climb even for independent films with stars and crowd-pleasing themes, never mind one about a polarizing political issue like abortion. Del Vecchio said he expects to secure a theatrical release for "The Life Zone," but conceded that, "There’s gonna be a number of distributors who aren’t gonna touch it."
“Doonby’s” writer-director, British commercial director Peter Mackenzie, said he showed his film to distributors last month at the market that runs concurrent with the Cannes Film Festival, and is currently in negotiations with a number of studios. Mackenzie's stated goals are less overtly political than Del Vecchio's -- he said he hopes to draw attention to an issue that is treated more casually in Europe than it is in the U.S.
“Doonby" does includes something of an Easter egg for opponents of abortion — a cameo by Norma McCorvey, the abortion-seeking plaintiff who went under the pseudonym “Roe” in the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. McCorvey later converted to Christianity and said she had been used as a pawn by the attorneys in the case. In "Doonby,” which was shot in McCorvey’s hometown of Smithville, Texas, she plays a character who admonishes a young woman considering terminating her pregnancy. “Children are a miracle, a gift from God,” McCorvey’s character says. “You’ve got responsibilities, girl.”
These aren’t the first movies to raise the contentious issue of abortion — or, as Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" euphemized, "smashmortion." Characters in “Knocked Up” and Jason Reitman’s “Juno” — both blockbuster hits — decided against an abortion, but the issue was treated more as a plot point than as political statement.
At least one independent anti-abortion film proved to be a moneymaker. In 2006, “Bella,” a $3-million movie about a waitress who is talked out of an abortion, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The following year it earned $12 million at the box office through grass-roots screenings that emphasized its Latin stars and director and anti-abortion message.
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Lindsey Haun and Blanche Baker in "The Life Zone." Credit: Cathleen Adkin