I started developing a film about reproductive rights and reproductive justice back in 2011. Initially I wanted to cover the social and political drama swirling around the passage of the Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines. As originally conceived, the film was going to follow the bill as it went through the legislative process. While researching the film, I visited Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, home to the busiest maternity ward on the planet. The ward averages 60 births a day--and at its peak has seen as many as 100 babies born in a 24-hour period. Fabella is the final safety net for very poor pregnant women, most of whom can afford neither contraception nor the 60 dollar delivery fee. The images I saw at the hospital--nurses who did their best to tame the noisy chaos of emergency room arrivals, crowded corridors, premature births and cramped recovery rooms with double occupancy of single beds--gripped me and wouldn't let go. It was soon evident that the story I was looking for, a story about reproductive justice and maternal and women's rights, was unfolding within the hospital walls.
As I shifted the gaze of my camera, I also decided on an exclusively observational approach to capture the daily rhythms of the hospital. Day in, day out, the routines at Fabella repeat themselves. Pregnant women arrive, mothers with babies leave. Outside on the street, visitors line up. Inside the ward, pregnant women, fanning themselves because there is no air conditioning, await the signs of labor that will advance them to the delivery room, where eventually they will hear the delivery staff's cry: "Baby out!" As in most immersive experiences, once the routine washes over you, the real story emerges. And the story I found was one of community and humor. The women talk unabashedly with each other about sex. A nurse counsels them on hygiene. Speaking into a microphone like a stand-up comic, she teasingly instructs them to bathe hidden body parts so their husbands and boyfriends will still want to have sex with them--and not chase after other women. They share not only stories but their bodies, literally--women breastfeeding other women's babies is not an uncommon sight. The narrative that emerges is a tableau not only of poverty, but also of warmth, generosity and fortitude. The fleeting but profound relationships forged on those cramped beds are the emotional bedrock of the film.
The story that unfolds in Motherland takes place in the Philippines, but it is universal. The wondrous mystery of motherhood is apparent in every frame of the film, in the sweat and screams of a first-time mother in labor, in the peace of her newborn being placed at her swollen breast, in the awkward laughter as she flounders to diaper her squirming baby. The joy at Fabella is no different from the joy experienced by mothers worldwide. However, because this film takes place in the Philippines, it invites audiences to witness these situations in the stark reality of a poor, densely populated Catholic country.
-- Ramona S. Diaz, Director