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Sundance 2013: Abortion Doc 'After Tiller' Premieres to Cheers, Tight Security

Organizers employ metal detectors and pat-downs at the screening of the documentary about doctors who perform late-term abortions, but the crowd is supportive.

After Tiller

PARK CITY -- The abortion documentary After Tiller made its Sundance Film Festival debut Friday afternoon amid extraordinary security measures, including metal detectors and pat-downs. Yet despite fears that the high-profile bow of a film about the four U.S. doctors who still perform late-term abortions could lead to protests or even violence, the audience reception was overwhelmingly positive.

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From directors Martha Shane and Lane Wilson, After Tiller chronicles the lives of the only physicians in the country still performing third-trimester abortions in the wake of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

The film premiered as part of Sundance's U.S. Documentary Competition at Park City's Temple Theatre. Several uniformed police officers were on hand as well as what appeared to be bodyguards.

The audience gave a standing ovation for the filmmakers as well as the four featured doctors who were on hand to take questions from the audience after the film. Dr. Warren Hern called the documentary "very important" and dubbed it the first film that "tried to listen to the patients and the doctors about what they're doing."

The doctors also hope that After Tiller, which features depictions of abortions, destigmatizes the procedure. Dr. Shelley Sella, who is gay, said it is easier to come out as gay than as having had an abortion.

Despite the divisive nature of the subject matter, the questions from the audience were universally supportive of the doctors. Several representatives from distributors also were in the audience for the film, which is seeking a buyer.

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Sundance is no stranger to hot-button films that garner protests and heightened security. Two years ago, Kevin Smith's religious horror film Red State sparked a heated response from crowds and picketers outside the Eccles Theatre, including members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.

And six years ago, the premiere of Hounddog -- about a 12-year-old rape victim played by Dakota Fanning -- prompted a bomb scare at the Eccles, leading to the 800-some attendees being evacuated shortly before the curtain rose.

Cinetic Media is repping sales at the festival.