If the idea of watching six hours of a privileged young woman pondering whether or not she should have a child makes you nervous, this extraordinary documentary will prove all the more surprising. Because Jennifer Fox’s epic, intimate film manages to look at not just one version of sex in the city, but amazingly, an entire world of women and their own questions of identity.
How did Fox pull this off? From one perspective, it’s a natural. Already an accomplished filmmaker, with teaching positions that take her all over the world, this is a woman used to pondering and putting it out there. And her “there” is a much broader place than most of us are fortunate to share. After all, how many of us can claim to have friends, really good, close friends all over the planet? Then again, as we watch how Fox begins to even wonder if she wants to have a baby, we also begin to wonder how many of us even have really good friends who live in our same city.
Fox’s journey essentially kicks off in a Manhattan hospital room, where one of her closest friends is about to go under the knife for a brain tumor. Scary stuff. And, understandably, the kind of life changing kick in the butt that can make anyone in its midst start to reevaluate. What it does for Jennifer is bring up that old question of children. Should she trade in her hard won freedom to nestle down and raise a baby?
Should she try to get pregnant with the far away married man she believes is the love of her life? Or should she allow herself to settle for the nice guy who seems to offer a cozy security, even if he isn’t quite so thrilling?
In the day to day of her life, Fox begins to look for answers from her family, the women she has befriended in other societies and newcomers, some of whom are facing far more immediate threats to their lives than risking sexual freedom. The filming goes on for five years and, through Fox’s camera, we all learn, love and lose.
Of course, there are times all this become irritating and self- indulgent. But Fox is smart enough to keep the camera moving, pulling us along through the mundane and deftly into yet another scene that is fresh and compelling.
I was often astonished at the honesty I was witnessing here, fascinated by universal emotions and truths, pained at the heartaches. And those are reactions I wish I had more often to film, an art that all too often settles for far less.
Flying: Confessionals of a Free Woman will be screened as a miniseries on the Sundance Channel in May and released as on DVD later in the month.