Filmmaker Interview with Director Kathleen Gyllenhaal

Nature vs. Nurture: what elements leave a lasting imprint on human beings? Inside IN UTERO, Kathleen Gyllenhaal complicates this question by suggesting that the prenatal environment largely determines humans’ most internal, unexplained anxieties and personality traits. With testimonies from physicians, professors, midwives, and authors, IN UTERO surmises that emotional traumas endured by pregnant mothers cause lifelong emotional complications for newborn children. By implying that the prenatal experience follows fetuses into human life, In Utero is sure to provoke viewers and raise questions about the way society treats soon-to-be mothers.

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What motivated you to make this film?

My own journey towards motherhood prompted me to start researching in utero life and prenatal health. I conceived during pre-production, shot the film during my pregnancy, had a successful birth during post-production, and have been raising my now 2-year-old son during the whole exhibition and distribution process.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The film was always evolving, although I did know from the start that I wanted to bring in a variety of perspectives on prenatal life — from psychologists to research scientists to mothers and midwives. Though I knew I wanted the film to take on a global perspective — and examine how in utero experiences are reflected in society, I didn’t foresee the pop culture side of things emerging the way it did. When one of my early interviews yielded some very interesting analyses of fairy tales and movies, I decided to include the pop culture (tv/film) piece in all of my interviews. The resultant examples from the cinema proved invaluable in getting some of the more complicated theories across.

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What was the most rewarding experience when making this film?

This journey was so profound, challenging, and personal for me, that it’s hard to pinpoint one experience. All in all, it was a privilege to learn from all of these experts while becoming a mother myself.

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

I like them all — researching, shooting, editing, and then getting the movie out into the world. Perhaps, for me, editing is the most exciting part, since it’s there that the film is really forged.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I want them to walk away with the understanding that we are shaped by so much more than our genes, and because of that, we really need to support mothers so that they are less stressed as they carry and birth their children. Only in this way can we reduce trauma in the next generation and those that follow. The benefits of such a movement are incalculable — not only for physical and mental health, but for the future of the species and the planet.

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What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

Really comfortable shoes.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

My husband and filmmaking partner always says, “Disturb the comforted, and comfort the disturbed,” which I think is a great way to approach one’s work. Also, don’t expect things to happen quickly, because it always takes longer than you think.

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Written by Jordan Wilson, SIMA

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