Friday, 29 April 2016

Hot Docs Interview: Maria Armalovsky on Future Baby

Maria Armalovsky, director of Future Baby 
Austria's Maria Armalovsky's documentary Future Baby raises some interesting questions about the ways in which people will be able to select their version of family. We are far from the days of "test tube baby" Louise Brown, but in years ahead, the question of "where do babies come from?" will be answered in a more ways than we ever anticipated. Future Baby screens at Hot Docs 2016 on April 30, May 2 and May 8th. Click here for show times/venue and to buy tickets.

donna g: I thought I knew what to expect from your film, after all, it's called Future Baby; however, you ventured into territory that I didn't even think about. As a woman who has decided to remain child free, your film made me realize that reproductive biotechnology raises issue that are societal as well as individual. 

Maria Armalovsky: Yes, you are right, emerging reproduction technologies combined with the relatively new knowledge of genetics is an issue that goes far above the topic of how to get babies. We are starting to understand, that we really could change and design the evolution of our species. Which is a huge topic. With FUTURE BABY I wanted to make people understand, that the craving or urge to have a baby gets things rolling. Scientist and doctors are triggered to offer solutions that become more and more sophisticated. You can earn a lot with new ideas. The marketplace to create a "perfect child" is huge. I suppose that is something very human to want the best for your child – so if you get the chance to look out for the "best" options, future parents will be tempted. But as you say, it is not only about parents, or children 2.0, it is about society that will change when some people use those technologies while others can't afford it.

donna g: How long did you spend researching the topic?

Maria: We have been researching for 2 years and the production took 3 years – but to be honest, since I started to research, I never stopped  being driven to learn more about it.

donna g: Your film takes us to several countries, and while it wasn't a surprise to see a Mexican city in your film, I didn't expect to see Villahermosa. Why that city?

Maria: Fertility tourism, makes it possible to undermine the national laws of the country you are living in, and also it offers cheaper opportunities to make affordable choices for intended parents. This means, if you have a state that offers cheap surrogacy with relatively good medical standards plus laws that make it seemingly easy for IPs to bring the children home – you will have a market place that will raise steadily. The need and the offer combined with women in very bad economic conditions makes a combination that is bringing in business to countries and nations that have a strong urge to make better business. When we started the research, India was the biggest player for affordable surrogacy for hetero and homosexual couples. After some scandals and work from NGOs that tried to protect the surrogates it shut down. So everybody fell for Thailand, more and more clinics where offering packages for the "West". Then again: scandals, irritations about men having babies and Thailand was shut down. When we had to shoot the surrogate story Villahermosa was the place to go, it was just opened to a wider international fertility audience. The law allowed you to have a baby with a surrogate if she gave birth to the child in the state of Tabasco. Villahermosa as the capital of Tabasco was the place with the best hospitals, airport, hotels, advocates etc.

Noa (right) and her mother, Ruth

donna g: Could you share how you met the family from Israel--the single mother and her daughter? They really brought home to me the similarity between children of sperm donation and adoption.

Maria: Yes exactly, everything adopted children had been fighting for, namely to have a right to get more information about their biological parents – is the same with children of 3rd party reproduction. But all the struggles adopted adults have  had (they don't stay children) to change the law and to change the perspective of adults involved in the business, are somehow useless, if society does not make that connection with 3rd party reproduction. Noa – the young woman from Israel- is raising her voice because she is desperate that the state and doctors make the change for her to know more about her heritage. This means not that she needs a father figure but that she wants, like every child, to know for example, why her nose looks the way it does, why she is the only one in her family liking Sauerkraut, why she has migraines very often. Noa wants to know, if she has half siblings, she would like to connect with them since they share perhaps similar ways to be in the world. She is also afraid of incest since she is not able to know with whom she shares a bloodline. Her mother Ruth, understood that depriving Noa of such essential information does not help in building good mother-daughter bonds, so she tried to help Noa and started a blog in Israel, to get more information out: why it is important for children of 3rd party reproduction to ban anonymity in the process. This is how we found them.

donna g: The concept of artificial wombs sounds like something from a Philip K Dick story. I know we're not there yet, but did  talk of this surprise?

Maria: The concept of an artificial womb is a good opportunity to start thinking. It is somehow shocking as an idea – at least for me it was shocking – but I suppose at some point in the future it could be possible. It would be the natural next step after the embryoskope where you see the blastocyst cells grow and the neonatal care units where parents can monitor their premies on the app at home. It could solve the problem of needing surrogates in the process. Anna Smajdor is perfectly right when she says that we have to start thinking in advance of changing technologies. Otherwise society will lack the possibility to build opinions, to make sure politics follow.

A biotechnician examines eggs in Future Baby

donna g: Babies are cute, but behind this I see a lot of money being made by others from fertility tourism. Do you think most people in the countries you visited are even aware of this?

Maria: The fertility industry (and I don't even want to mark industry as something generally bad) is a market place where you can make money if you are clever. But this cleverness always includes the need for women as egg cell donors and surrogates in economically harsh situations, and this kind of general taboo helps in keeping the fertility marketplace invisible. The storytelling of the industry is more about the altruistic, generous side of donors and the wish to help of surrogates.

donna g: It must have been very difficult to edit your film down to 90 minutes or so. Can you tell us about a scene that you had to cut, even though it broke your heart to do so?

Maria: I had Yuval Harari, an Israeli historian and Julian Savulescu, from Oxford a philosopher, talking about Transhumanism - how Transhumanism plays into the repro-tech business and how it will change our world as we know it. It was too much and going too far. It was hard for me to let go. So I will have to wait for my next opportunity to make a documentary film.

donna g: What does it mean to you, personally and/or professionally, to have your film screen at Hot Docs?

Maria: I am so looking forward to getting feed back from an international audience. -END-

All photos courtesy of Hot Docs

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Hot Docs is ON! April 28 - May 8th

Coming soon: interviews and film reviews from Hot Docs 2016. In the meantime follow me on Instagram and twitter  @tmtmwithdonnag and Facebook The More the Merrier with donna g.
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I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...