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‘Saint Frances’ tackles abortion and the pressures faced by thirty-something, child-free women with honesty and humour

Saint Frances cinched the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW last year for good reason: it’s fucking amazing.

It’s the only film we’ve ever watched where an abortion is depicted realistically. Saint Frances also accurately captures the division in America with a quiet tenderness, as observed through the eyes of both Bridget, a 34-year-old woman struggling with her self worth and sense of purpose, and Frances, a precocious five-year-old girl she nannies one summer.

When I watched the trailer, I knew it was going to be a great film—sometimes you just know—but it was more than that. By the time the credits rolled I was splayed out on the couch crying my eyes out; it felt like the therapy session I needed. As much as I wanted to feel my feelings in that moment, I had to pull myself together quickly, because within minutes of finishing the movie I was being patched through to writer Kelly O’Sullivan, who also stars as Bridget. 

JM: Hi.

KO: Hi there!

JM: I just watched your film and it was so good. It was a deeply cathartic experience, and I just finished drying my eyes.

KO: Oh good! (She laughs.)

JM: There are so many big themes here: Depression, Postpartum Depression, motherhood, abortion, queer mixed-race families, America right now, a polarized society, Catholicism… Where did the writing start?

KO: The main thing that interested me was the pressurized age that I was at when I started writing it. I was 34, and all of the women in my friend-group were going through experiences in terms of motherhood, or not being a mother. I had just had an abortion, I had a friend who had just had a miscarriage, other friends were having children, and my mom was asking me every day when she was going to get a grandchild… just the constant nagging of the outside world and internally of these questions of motherhood.
 
We also wanted to portray the experience that I had had with abortion in a realistic way that wasn’t overly dramatic and didn’t have a trauma at the root of it, and there wasn’t a lot of pandering over the decision to have an abortion. I feel like what I had seen in TV and Film was all trauma. [I wanted to] portray it in a way that we hadn’t seen before that felt light-hearted and normalized.
 
JM: I did appreciate how much blood there was in this film. I’ve had a weird day: before I watched your film I had been working with DivaCup, so my whole day has been about blood.
 
KO: It was a major intention of the film, and it’s why within the first five minutes there is a bloodbath. 
 
JM: I loved it.
 
KO: We wanted to say, “This is the film that you’re in for! It’s going to be a realistic portrayal of a woman’s body.” There was no way I was going to show this character having an abortion without very realistic post-abortion bleeding. So much of the film is about shame and the shame that women are forced to feel for their bodies. It would just be adding to the shame if we chose to put those things off-screen. It would further that narrative that we should keep that hidden, we shouldn’t talk about that, it doesn’t deserve a place on screen. It’s the most normal thing in the world. It was very intentional that we wanted there to be quite a bit of blood, and I still think there wasn’t as much blood as I actually experienced (laughing).
 
 
JM: When you’re talking about choices you made artistically for the film I feel like the theme of “making choices” was also a huge theme in the film too. I am a mom to a kid the same age as Frances, so that dialogue about “making good choices” is familiar, and something I talk about with my son often. What did you want to say about making choices? 
 
KO: I wanted to say, “Go easy on yourself.” It feels like there is so much pressure to make “the right choices” at “the right time” of your life, especially if you’re a woman. And so I wanted to say, “There is no absolute right choice.” Unless you feel strongly about it, there is no “right way” that your life has to go. Bridget feels a lot of shame for not making the “best” choices of her life, and Frances says, “You’re okay, you’re a good person.” And try to take some of that incredible pressure that women feel off of ourselves. To be right or do it right or be the best version of ourselves.
 
JM: The film is called Saint Frances and there’s definitely a lot of references to Catholicism. What is it about Frances, this little girl  that made her such a saint or a gift to Bridget?
 
KO: Frances is non-judgmental love. Bridget doesn’t have a relationship to religion, but she does have a relationship to people. The relationship with this child is what religion gives to many other people: a place of comfort and a judgement free zone.
 
 
JM: Why was this summer so good for Bridget? What did she find in this summer that she wasn’t able to find in the rest of her life?
 
KO: I think a sense of self-acceptance and self-love. Seeing herself through the eyes of this kid, she realizes that she’s okay, that she’s good enough, and that she’s leading a good enough life in the ways that matter. She’s kind in moments that matter, and she’s brave in moments that matter. Before this summer I don’t think Bridget would have thought of herself in those ways. She gets to, in a lot of ways, relearn who she is and walk with a little more self-acceptance. 
 
JM: I noticed there were lots of signs you used in the film. You had the Black Lives Matter sign on the front lawn, there was a Hell Is Real billboard, the Unborn Lives Matter magnet on the fridge. Can you talk a little about the decision to include those?
 
KO: I learn a lot about people through the things that they may not say out loud, but the things that they post as a way of identifying themselves. It was really important to me that we know immediately that Mya and Annie are progressive. They are open and loving and non-judgemental, but on the other hand, Maya has all of this self-judgement for [her] Postpartum Depression. You may say one thing on the outside and then be harder on yourself internally. The billboard is based on a real sign that I pass [when] driving home to Arkansas.
 
JM: I see them up here in Canada too. They are incredibly disturbing.
 
KO: The pro-life signs are always reminding me of some kind of punishment, and that half of the world thinks I should be punished for certain choices that I make. And the Unborn Lives matter sign is based on when I was a nanny. I nannied for a wonderful couple, but then one day I took care of one of their neighbors’ kids and in the neighbours’ home there was all of this really right wing and judgemental stuff. Their bookcase was full of Ann Coulter’s books, and all of a sudden I was like, “Oh. These people, if they knew me, they would have a problem with who I am.” And yet I was in their house, working for them.
 
JM: Since you had your abortion, do you see the signs differently?
 
KO: For sure. I take them way more personally now. They always made me angry and it was always very theoretical and intellectual, but now I take it incredibly personally. And they are EVERYWHERE. There’s one not far from our apartment. But there’s someone who’s thrown a paintball on it and I always feel good about that. 
 
JM: Are you in Arkansas? 
 
KO: Chicago. In a very liberal neighborhood. 
 
 
JM: Wow. So, how much does the character of Bridget mirror your own experience and life?
 
KO: There are some things that are straight up stolen from my life, but her circumstances are slightly different. I wanted to place her in a place that felt even more immobilized than I am in my own life. She didn’t complete college, and that’s a real area of disappointment for her. There were definitely some fictionalized aspects of Bridget that placed her in more of a limbo than me.
 
JM: You mentioned that some of your friends are having kids and you’ve done a really great job at painting a realistic portrait of early motherhood.
What did you want to say about motherhood?
 
KO: Well, not being a mother yet, I mostly wanted to reflect the stories that my mom had told me about my childhood. I was five years old when my brother was born and she talks about when finally my brother Kevin would stop crying as a baby and then she’d go to lie down, that’s when I would start jumping on the bed. She never slept. I wanted to say that it’s everything. It’s beautiful and life-affirming and it’s incredibly hard and boring and maddening. It’s not one thing. It’s everything. 
 
JM: I had a cathartic experience watching the film, so I imagine writing it was healing in some way for you. Was it?
 
KO: It helped me a lot. For one, my parents didn’t know that I had a gotten an abortion until they read a review of the movie.
 
JM: Oh! (chuckles)
 
KO: And in some ways that was the conversation that I was the most scared of. What has been true throughout this entire process is that I’m constantly surprised by how loving people are after seeing the movie, and that included my parents. I was so worried about judgement and it has shown me the opposite. It has helped me be brave in terms of talking about anything I’m ashamed of. In turn, I’m having a lot of conversations with other people who’ve been through similar things, not just abortions but postpartum. Those conversations with people, after they’ve seen the movie, are the most cathartic things about it.
 
 
Saint Frances is available to download on iTunes starting November 13th. For a chance to win a FREE download, tweet “YES PLEASE @Shedoesthecity @GameTheoryFilms, I’m at home and would love to watch #SaintFrances, it looks like everything I want and need at this moment.” or LIKE + COMMENT our Saint Frances posts on Shedoesthecity’s Facebook and Instagram

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