First came hard-hitting formula milk documentary Tigers, which was followed closely by Microbirth – a ground-breaking film that explores how the process of birth can have an impact on the future of humanity.
Ricki Lake’s hugely successful look at birth in America – The Business of Being Born – is also set for a re-release.
A potentially fascinating new documentary about indigenous midwives is also in the pipeline, but it will only make it onto the screen if its makers raise enough money to complete the costly post-production process.
Give Light: Stories from Indigenous Midwives records unique stories from native midwives around the world, and explores how childbirth has become a medical event that has suppressed women’s greatest potential.
The feature-length film is slated for an October 2015 release, but a Kickstarter campaign raising funds to pay for it to be completed ends on 12th December – with almost $7,000 still to be found.
We’ve spoken to Steph Smith about how she made it, and the impact she hopes it will have on maternity services…
What first inspired you to begin researching indigenous midwives?
I lost my mother when I was very young. Because of the lack of a vital female figure in my life, I want to understand the meaning of the divine feminine and my own feminine nature.
In 2009, I attended a herbal conference and met Dona Enriqueta Contreras, an indigenous midwife and herbalist from Mexico. Dona’s unique perspective on medicinal herbs and healing fascinated me. She shared a time when she was struggling with grief, and remembered her elders telling her to surround herself with purple flowers, which help soothe the soul.
After our conversation, I thought learning about midwives and their practices might give me insight into what the divine feminine means. I had no idea about the journey I was about to embark on.
How did you come up with the title?
In Latin countries, dar luz means to give birth, but the literal meaning is to give light. I researched these origins and found that the goddess of childbirth and labour pains during Roman times was called Lucina (Light Bringer), which for me was a fascinating connection.
What is your Kickstarter campaign raising money for?
I created a Kickstarter to cover the costs of post-production and distribution. We need to hire post-production staff and other technical services, which will cost around $10,000. The campaign’s stretch goals would allow us to hire a professional, celebrity narrator and pay for critical archival film, photo and music rights. I would also like to produce a soundtrack for the documentary.
What draws you to documentary film-making as a way of sharing stories and educating individuals around the world?
Documentary film-making is a way to share stories that can give people hope. Often the journey of our lives can be difficult, and inspirational stories can give us courage to face our challenges. Many midwives have endured a lot and yet they still serve their communities.
Can you talk a little about Rosita Arvigo, an author you are interviewing in Belize?
Ms Arvigo’s knowledge of Mayan abdominal massage work and traditional herbal healing will greatly contribute to this documentary’s scope. She is well known amongst alternative practitioners and has published several books about her work.
I believe many women today have lost their connection to a very powerful source of energy, creativity and wisdom – their womb. Why else would one elect to have a c-section if it’s not necessary! Ms Arvigo’s work can help reconnect women to their bodies and natural sources of energy.
Can you tell us one of your favourite stories from the interview process?
A moment that stands out was when I asked Caputo from the Yawalapitia tribe in Brazil what she calls a midwife in her own language. She had to think about it. I don’t think it ever occurred to her to give herself a title. At that moment she understood her value in a new way. Maria Auroa from Peru was also a delight and had so much wisdom that could benefit many, but all of them were so special and memorable.
Unfortunately, it was a less positive experience interviewing the Cabecares of Costa Rica. Their community lives on top of a continental shelf, yet there was no traditional midwife. Puzzled about this, I found out later it is illegal to practice midwifery in Costa Rica.
What cultural barriers did you encounter?
All of them. It is very difficult to understand a culture outside of your own. You just try to have a open mind and hope that you get it from their perspective and not yours, which is socially influenced. Language barriers and translators further widens the gap. Unfortunately, many indigenous communities do not trust outsiders because of the long history of abuse and exploitation. A young Navajo America Indian told me I was lucky they even talked to me.
What are some of the biggest challenges you found midwives to be facing around the world?
Midwives are so misunderstood by much of the general public in some countries. It seems like society has become convinced that midwives are dangerous and antiquated. In actuality, midwifery is one of the oldest and richest professions, with the capability of providing a very high quality service.
Where do you plan on taking this film after post-production?
I plan on submitting this documentary to festivals and the educational arena. I am particularly interested in screening the film at universities and engaging students in discussion. Hopefully I will also be able to show it on broadcast networks.
What impact do you see this film having on the ongoing conversation around maternity healthcare?
I want to raise awareness of the challenges that indigenous midwives face today. In remote communities where midwifery is illegal, a pregnant mother is supposed to travel to a neighbouring city to visit a clinic. This puts the mother and child’s lives at risk just because of social policy.
I want to invite OB/GYN professionals to support midwifery and understand its unique role in maternity health care. We must honour and empower women instead of repressing their divine and creative force. Women were born with a beautiful capability to bring a child’s light into this world – we must not take that away. I hope this film inspires women to trust in themselves and feel empowered to make their own health-care decisions – to connect with their divine feminine nature to ‘Give Light’.
To donate to the Kickstarter campaign, click here. For a $25 donation (around £16), you will receive a digital download of the film before its official release.