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After Tiller

After Tiller: Sundance Review

4:35 PM PST 1/25/2013 by Duane Byrge

The Bottom Line

Empathetic look at the four third-trimester abortion practitioners in this country. 

Venue

Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Directors-producers

Marsha Shane, Lana Wilson

Filmmakers Marsha Shane and Lana Wilson convey sympathetic portraits of the four doctors who provide third-trimester abortions in the United States.

PARK CITY -- George Tiller was a third-trimester abortion doctor who was killed by an anti-abortion activist in Kansas in 2009. After Tiller is an up-close portrait of the remaining four doctors who provide third-trimester abortions in the United States. 

A hot-button issue, abortion often is conveyed in stark black-and-white terms. In this thoughtful documentary, filmmakers Marsha Shane and Lana Wilson have conveyed sympathetic portraits of those four physicians: LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella. Different personalities, they all believe that what they do supersedes society’s approval.

Much more difficult for them are the ethical issues that each confronts: We see that each is a thoughtful individual who has struggled with the morality of their practice. They have done considerable soul-searching, but each believes in the rightness of their actions. The four acknowledge that they are particularly isolated: Many pro-choice believers oppose third-trimester abortions, feeling they are aborting a baby rather than a fetus.

Throughout, the film encapsulates the four doctors’ perspectives and points-of-view. While distinctive individuals, they share a commonality: They endure constant death threats and are under legal/political duress from states and municipalities, which regard them as "murderers."

Aesthetically, filmmakers Shane and Wilson present a rounded portrait of each practitioner, from their clinics to their homes. In addition, we gain perspective on the women who seek such late abortions and the varied reasons they give.

Whether one is pro-life, pro-choice or without an opinion on the issue, After Tiller provides personal insight into a heart-wrenching, complex reality. The film does not pretend to be an answer to the abortion controversy but rather a presentation of the people who are demonized, correctly or incorrectly, for their actions.

Production companies: Artemis Media Ventures, Belle Max Productions
Director-producers: Marsha Shane, Lana Wilson
Directors of photography: Hillary Spera, Emily Topper
Editor: Greg O’Toole
No rating, 88 minutes.