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Lake of Fire (2006) holds a special place in my mind because it was one of the documentaries I looked as a style reference when beginning my own film American Circumcision. It is impossible for me to talk about this film without talking about the lessons I look from it.
Lake of Fire is a two and a half hour documentary on the abortion debate shot over fourteen years on 35mm black and white film. If that sounds fascinating to you, you’ll probably like this film. If it sounds heavy – yes, very much so. But the above description should be enough for you to know if this film is right for you.
I’ve shown Lake of Fire to friends on both sides of the abortion debate, and they’ve all said they found it fair and interesting. That is an incredible accomplishment, that comes from the documentaries willingness to let its interview subjects talk and share a complete thought with nuance. Given the amount of footage they had for this film, it must have taken incredible discipline in the editing room to keep those long ideas, and not hack them down to a soundbite.
That willingness to let interview subjects on both sides speak is the biggest thing I took from this film for my own. So much of the abortion debate – maybe even all public debate – has devolved into people screaming at each other. This film listens. Even when we see scenes of protestors screaming at counter protestors, the camera just watches, giving us the distance to process what we’re seeing.
The second takeaway I took was interviewing a range of perspectives. Lake of Fire share perspectives from fundamentalists, feminists, academics, performance artists, people who do abortions, women who’ve had abortions, and even the Roe of Roe v. Wade herself. That range of perspectives is part of what keeps the film feeling fair.
There are certain moments you could only catch by shooting for that long a time. For example, one man in a man on the street interview goes on to bomb an abortion clinic. His interview is fascinating, because it reveals the seeds of a mindset that will lead to an awful crime. While there’s no way to plan or predict a moment like that, if you shoot for hundreds of hours you’re bound to catch lightning at some point.
This brings me to the third takeaway. This is a heavy film. People die. A woman talks about how the last three abortion doctors she worked for have all been killed. Subjects cry on camera. They face life changing decisions. But the camera allows us the distance needed to process it all. Even the choice to make the film black and white puts old images we’ve seen before in a new context.
With so many bound to enter the film with preconceived ideas, these stylistic choices allow us to see what the film presents as new. Even the music, which features an almost heavenly choir, gives that little bit of perspective needed to pull the documentary from the level of news and politics to the level of art.
You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the film’s politics. With a regular documentary that might be the focus. Here, it’s almost secondary. The film isn’t really interested in pushing an agenda – just listening. Even though many of the specific political events it covers are no longer relevant, the film still is, because human emotion and listening to peoples experiences will always be relevant.
If you feel like listening to peoples thoughts and feelings around this issue is worth your time, this film is a good recommendation. If that sounds too heavy to you, or you don’t have the space to process it, pass.
- Watch Lake Of Fire (2006)
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Previous Movie Recommendation: Dark Days (2000)
P.S. Check out the film I’m working on here, because it’s been influenced by a lot of great films.