Film Notes: ‘Reversing Roe’ Screens in Hanover

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    Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis makes a point during a debate. Davis plays a key role in "Reversing Roe," a new documentary by Dartmouth College graduates Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. The film screens at Dartmouth on Jan. 25, 2019. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2019 12:05:07 AM
Modified: 1/18/2019 12:05:17 AM

Forgive Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern a measure of paranoia about the 24/7 news cycle, going into next Friday night’s screening at the Hopkins Center of Reversing Roe.

Events have been shaking the earth beneath the feet of the Dartmouth College alumnae and filmmaking partners since they started mapping out their new documentary, which traces the status of women’s reproductive rights since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Take Nov. 8, 2016. They were meeting at Lincoln Square Productions about “this as-yet-unnamed movie we wanted to do about reproductive rights,” Stern recalled this week. “It was the day of the presidential election, and we went in assuming that Hillary Clinton would win, so it didn’t seem as vital and urgent that there’d be much change in abortion policy — until the next day.

“After Trump won, we realized that our focus would have to reflect the ongoing, changing laws state by state, the way it’s being chipped away to a point where we’re very close, in some states, to going back almost to a place before Roe.”

The landscape changed again late last summer. While the team was preparing to unveil the finished product at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, an executive at Netflix, the film’s distributor, called to alert them that Anthony Kennedy, the swing-vote justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, had just announced his retirement.

“The executive asked, ‘Do we want to open up the ending?’ ” Sundberg said. “And we did.”

Nor were they done improvising after they closed the movie with a reference to the changing of the guard on the court. In mid-September, Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s conservative nominee to replace Kennedy, of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. The news prompted Netflix to start streaming Reversing Roe to its subscribers after the Telluride premiere, rather than letting Sundberg and Stern screen it at other festivals.

“We really couldn’t just hold it, given how we emphasize at the end of the film the importance of the court,” Stern said. “Netflix can put it in 190 countries and millions of households. They don’t release the numbers of people who are streaming the film, but they tell us that they’re reaching more people than you could in a traditional theatrical release.”

None of which prevents the duo from showing the movie on the big screen at Spaulding Auditorium next week at their alma mater. Stern graduated in 1987, Sundberg in 1990. “We’re looking forward to feeling that connection with a live audience,” Stern said. “You feel the energy.”

Streaming also can’t give audiences the chance that the Hop will provide next Friday to quiz two of the key movie’s subjects — Missouri obstetrician-gynecologist Colleen McNicholas, who provides abortions at clinics in her home state and neighboring states that also restrict the procedure, and former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who temporarily stalled a restrictive bill with a filibuster in 2013.

Davis, who now runs a nonprofit that helps young women lobby the Texas Legislature for their rights, is looking forward to sharing her perspective on the erosion of a woman’s right to end her pregnancy, both in Texas and around the country.

“Even though the Supreme Court overturned parts of the bill that Texas finally passed, to date, only three of the more than 20 clinics that had to close have re-opened,” Davis said in a telephone interview this week. “There was already a shortage of providers, and the staff at the clinics that closed had to find work elsewhere. When you lose your network, your safety net, it’s hard to rebuild. This is why I was honored that Ricki and Annie reached out to me to take part in this film. The story they tell shows just what’s at stake today.

“It reminds us that we have a responsibility to care about all the work that men and women put in to make the right to choose legal.”

Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern screen their documentary Reversing Roe next Friday night at 7 at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover. For tickets ($5 to $10) and more information, visit or call 603-646-2422.


Looking for a different yet fitting way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of equality and inclusion on the holiday marking the civil-rights leader’s 90th birthday? If you have Monday afternoon off, consider going to the Nugget Theaters in Hanover to see Intelligent Lives, New Hampshire filmmaker and disabled-rights advocate Dan Habib’s new documentary about three people with handicaps striving to navigate the education system and the workplace.

Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper narrates the film and also appears on camera with his wife, actress-screenwriter Marianne Leone, to talk about their son, Jesse, who died in 2005, at age 17, after years of struggling to adjust to the “normal” world.

“My wife and I met them about a decade ago, when we were sitting at the same table at an event in Boston for kids with special needs,” Habib, a former Concord Monitor photographer who now is director of projects at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. “We discovered that we had very similar values on the issues of inclusion. When I told them I was putting this movie together, they were very supportive from the start. It was important to him to talk about how Jesse was always underestimated by people because of his disability.”

The central characters in Intelligent Lives include a teenage artist with autism whose paintings are exhibited at universities in Boston; a man with an IQ of 40 who now co-teaches classes at Syracuse University; and a Rhode Island woman with Down syndrome who emerged from a low-paid, make-work job in a sheltered workshop that wasn’t providing her with the education she needed to move toward independence.

“Now she has a job she loves,” Habib said of the woman. “She shows how employers are finding that people like her, with the proper training and encouragement, can be some of the most reliable, conscientious employees.”

The screening at the Nugget starts at 1:30 on Monday afternoon. To reserve tickets, visit or drop in to the box office.

■Valerie Jensen comes to Dartmouth’s Loew Auditorium Saturday night to screen 25 Prospect Street, a documentary about the movie theater she started in Ridgefield, Conn., to help people with cognitive and physical disabilities build their job and independent-life skills. For tickets ($5 to $10) and more information, visit or call 603-646-2422.

Indigenous Genius

The Hopkins Center resumes its series of movies on Native-American themes this weekend, with a Sunday-afternoon screening of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. After the film, which starts at 4 at Loew Auditorium in the Black Family Center, director Catherine Bainbridge will talk about her documentary about Jimi Hendrix, Robbie Robertson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Link Wray and other musicians of American Indian heritage who influenced American popular music. For tickets ($5 to $10) and more information, visit or call 603-646-2422.

From Here to ‘Eternity’

The Cine Salon series of vintage movies returns to Hanover’s Howe Library on Jan. 28, with a screening of Wings. The first feature film to win an Academy Award, in 1928, this look back at World War I mixes actual footage of aerial dogfights with a melodrama starring Gary Cooper, Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers as pilots and Clara Bow as the girl of their dreams.

Next, Cine Salon curator Bruce Posner will show Sergei Bondarchuk’s mid-1960s adaptation of War and Peace in four parts, starting on Feb. 11 and continuing on Feb. 25, March 11 and April 22. Admission is free to all Cine Salon offerings, which start at 7 in the library’s Mayer Room. To learn more about the spring series, on the theme of “Eternity,” visit

■The Woodstock Vermont Film Series breaks its streak of acclaimed documentaries on Jan. 26, with two screenings at Billings Farm and Museum of the Lebanese drama The Insult. Nominated for best foreign film at the 2017 Academy Awards, it follows a dispute, in Beirut, between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee who wind up, despite a media circus surrounding their court case, learning about each other’s problems.

Admission is $6 to $11, and screening are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m. Billings Farm recommends ordering tickets in advance by calling 802-457-2355 or visiting billingsfarm. org/filmfest.

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304. Film news also can be sent to

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