This month the powerful documentary ‘Vegas Baby’ premiered on Netflix. The film looks at the high cost of infertility – both literally (the high price tag of treatments) and figuratively (how it impacts individuals and couples going through it).
We caught up with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Amanda Micheli, whose mission is to spark a national conversation about infertility.
What inspired you to make this film?
Over the last five years, my husband and I have struggled with our own infertility issues, during which he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I was shocked by my ignorance about my own fertility and bowled over by the financial and emotional costs of treatment. And because reproductive medicine is dominated by for-profit clinics reliant on marketing rather than insurance contracts, it seems that patients are often left feeling particularly vulnerable and alone.
It was in researching possible solutions to my own situation that I came across Dr. Sher’s contest. This competition struck me as a perfectly absurd distillation of the overwhelming world of reproductive medicine in which I found myself. My goal with this film is to raise awareness by starting a national conversation about infertility and allowing viewers to see the daily challenges faced by couples and individuals who struggle with it.
Was it tough working on the documentary while navigating infertility yourself?
It was all tough, but for me, working on the film was therapeutic because it meant that my own journey could help create something that would help other people in the same boat as me, as well as educating people who “don’t get it.” But I will say, when I started the project, I had no idea that my personal journey would go on for SO long. Like many hopeful people at the outset of this journey, at first I thought we could get pregnant with IUI, and then I thought with 1-2 tries of IVF we would be able to wrap it up. But that wasn’t the case for us. So I had to just try to stay present, and make the right choices for me — both with regards to my medical treatment, and what was right for the film. Despite the challenges of producing and funding an independent film like this, I never considered stopping the project. I am on a mission!
How long did you follow these individuals’ fertility stories?
I started filming with the people in the film in the fall of 2013, and we premiered the film for the first time at Tribeca in the spring of 2016. So between filming and editing, we followed these stories for a total of three years, but most of the primary shooting was wrapped up after two years. The people who allowed me to film such an intimate part of their lives were very courageous and I am indebted to them for sharing their stories.
What was the hardest and what was the most rewarding part of making this documentary?
The hardest part was convincing funders and distributors that infertility was “important” enough to warrant their support. Despite the fact that everyone I talk to seems to know someone who has gone through this (1 in 6 worldwide!), there’s still a stigma and a silence around it. Some funders also expressed concern that the contest was too controversial and that the film didn’t’ take enough of a “stance” rallying against it. I have always wanted the audience to come to their own conclusion about the contest, which really seems like a symptom of a larger problem, to me. In any case, we got seed support from a few key funders in the documentary world who trusted me early on, and when the film was finished, we got support from First Response, who were the underwriters of our PBS broadcast.
The most rewarding part occurs when people who knew nothing about this subject matter tell me that this film opened up their eyes to a hidden world, and that they will think twice before judging or giving quick advice to someone struggling with infertility.
Morgan Spurlock was the Executive Producer of your film. What was his connection to you and/or the subject matter?
Morgan and I have known each other for years — I was the cinematographer on the first episode of his SUPERSIZE ME spinoff, “30 Days.” He was even at my wedding, which was right around the time my husband and I started trying to have a family! I showed Morgan a rough cut of the film early on in our editing process, and he loved it. Meanwhile, he and his wife were going through their own infertility journey, so he knew how important it was to bring this issue to light. After several losses, he now has a one-year old son who was the product of IVF, and he feels very lucky. He wants to help raise awareness about this issue as much as I do, and I’m grateful that he has come on board to help us get the film out there.
How do you believe this documentary can change the conversation about infertility?
It’s hard to understand other people’s pain if you haven’t walked in their shoes.
I think of documentaries as “empathy machines” — even if you don’t agree with everything you see in this film, I think it’s hard to walk away without a new appreciation for what these people go through. And, hopefully seeing people sharing their stories in this intimate way will inspire other people to speak up about their own experience.
I think access to care will continue to be a challenge — IVF, like much of American health care, is a case of the “haves” and “have nots” — but the more awareness and education that is out there, the more likely we will see a change both in access to care and patients being more proactive and therefore, hopefully needing less services.
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