January 9, 2008 / 9:25 AM / in 10 years

Ricki Lake delivers scary birth documentary

PALM SPRINGS (Hollywood Reporter) - Apparently Prissy from “Gone With the Wind” isn’t the only one who don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies.

From the perspective of “The Business of Being Born,” an eye-opening look at maternity in America, the nation’s hospitals and insurance companies place a close second.

Initiated by executive producer Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein, this investigation of contemporary childbirth “management” is in many ways “The Inconvenient Truth” of obstetrics, not to mention a convincing endorsement of midwifery.

A close-up and personal film, in which several of its subjects -- including Lake -- allow the camera to capture their chosen methods of delivery in indisputably intimate detail, “The Business of Being Born,” screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical run (it will be offered by Netflix in February), is a must-see for any woman who’s pregnant or planning to have kids.

At first glance, the notion of deliberately giving birth outside of a hospital (as Lake did in 2001, in her bathtub with her second child) might seem to be a risky proposition.

But then come all the disturbing questions:

- Why does the U.S. have the second-worst newborn death rate in the developed world?

Talk show host Ricki Lake listens to a question during a news conference in Sydney November 2, 2007. Lake is touring Australia to promote her film "The Business of Being Born" in which she is filmed giving birth. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

- Why are more than 40% of the deliveries done in some New York hospitals all Cesarean sections?

- And why, according to a study, are the peak hours for Cesarean procedures at 4 in the afternoon and 10 at night?

As the film probes the circumstances that have led to midwife-attended births in America dropping from 50% in 1938 to less than 8% today (whether in or outside hospitals), while in the five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, midwives figure into 70% of those births, it points to those Michael Moore-approved usual suspects: namely the health care and insurance industries.

But though some doctors admit to pressing for time-efficient, $14 billion-a-year Cesarean sections as a way of avoiding negligence claims, and questionable practices are nothing new (Thalidomide, anyone?), “The Business of Being Born” makes its best case when documenting those natural-birth alternatives.

Casting vanity to the wind, Epstein’s subjects permit Paulo Netto’s unimposing camera to witness the miracle of birth in a big-business-free environment, and the effect, like the production itself, is as poignant as it is potent.

Director: Abby Epstein; Executive producer: Ricki Lake; Producers: Abby Epstein, Amy Slotnick, Paulo Netto; Director of photography: Paulo Netto; Editor: Madeleine Gavin.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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