To Kid or Not to Kid: An Interview with Documentary Director Maxine Trump

What is it like to “come out” as childfree? In a world where we’re still criticized for speaking openly about the choice to live childfree, filmmaker Maxine Trump explores this question in her forthcoming documentary TO KID OR NOT TO KID.

Amy had the great pleasure of meeting Maxine at the inaugural NotMom Summit in 2015 where some of the filming took place. A year later, w{n}hab! had a chance to view an early cut of the film at a screening we hosted at our pop-up venue. (Spoiler alert: We loved it!) Today, we’re delighted to bring you our interview with Maxine.

Read on for details about the film, when it’s coming out, and how you can support it!

Maxine Trump, Director & Producer

Tell us about yourself.

Don’t let the last name fool you, I’m a transplant from the UK and not related to President Drumpf. Apparently my name used to be Von Trumpenhoffen, no lie. My family were Dutch, I think. Anyway re: family, I don’t have kids. No surprise there I’m sure.

I worked for the BBC before emigrating to the US, where I worked on some great comedy shows before finding my love for documentaries. This background allowed me to develop a vision for my production company, which is dedicated to making fun films that make you give a damn about the things that often fall out of view from everyday consciousness.

My last film, Musicwood, was an award winner and a New York Times Critics’ Pick that played literally around the world – on planes, as  in-flight entertainment – and on the ground in theaters and TV.

What’s your newest film about?

It’s both a personal and cultural look at what living childfree means.  While I was always ambivalent about having kids,  I never really ‘made’ the firm decision whether to have them or not, the subject was deep and buried in the back of my mind. It was never a life goal for me, but then nor was marriage, and I’m married now.

Then, in the past few years, I had some personal interactions, that were upsetting and led me to search  online for a sense of shared experience amongst others who were grappling with the same issues. There I found a community of many other women experiencing stigma, some of whom were on the receiving end of censure even more severe than the kind I encountered in my personal life. This realization that I wasn’t alone in my experience, coupled with hearing the Pope label women who choose not to conceive as “selfish,” felt like a punch in the gut.  It was a real call to action for me, a tangible sign that our society needed to start discussing these issues more constructively and with less judgement.

So it’s the attention in both my personal life and on the stage of public life, that made me decide to put my filmmaking skills to good use and chronicle my journey through the maternity decision process. I felt the structure of filmmaking would really help me tease out all the issues I was grappling with while also offering a more publicly accessible springboard to help us deconstruct  the myth that women who choose not to have kids are weird, selfish or somehow wrong. The film is called TO KID OR NOT TO KID.

Why this film? Why now?

There was only one English language film made on the subject and it didn’t quite hit the note that I was looking for. I also felt that this subject would be best served in a less formalized, less Talking Head type of film: I wanted people to really feel what some of us  go through, while being able to show that, “Look, we’re cool, we’re fun, we aren’t these child-eating witches/wizards….we are actually normal, healthy, integrated people!”

Additionally, some women, don’t feel empowered enough to even make these reproductive choices. For example, I met one woman recently who really struck me.  There was this moment in our conversation where she looked at me with utter shock, this moment where it seemed to fully dawn on her that she could make this most elemental choice of whether to have children or not. So it is this realization that many women still feel so much pressure to have kids, alongside this possibility that having conversations can free women to make their reproductive choices that also plays into why I’m making the film.

 

What’s been the biggest surprise as you’ve made the film?

So many surprises. While I always know that my films will transform me just through the process of making them, this film in particular has deepened my understanding of myself. And on just a women’s rights level, I’ve picked up on some useful jargon surrounding reproductivity (like the distinction“ between “childfree” and “childless”) that I think, by way of this film, will make its way into popular consciousness and help move the conversation forward.

But the biggest thing I’ve discovered is that the divide between biological mothers and women who don’t conceive isn’t as big as it needs, or even  appears, to be. I really used to think there was this untraversable rift between us, between these two different types of women, as if we weren’t all cut from the same cloth, or as if we weren’t even partaking in some elemental “essence of femininity” in the same way. That made me feel very alienated, and even apologetic, at times. I actually used to almost whisper the name of the film, or I’d catch myself trying to deflect this sense of self-doubt over my choice by over-enthusiastically proclaiming how much “I really DO love babies,” and so on. But through the process of creating this project, I’ve grown to understand that there is no shame in being childfree/childless and I’ve shed many of the doubts that used to bedevil me about it.

I’m also surprised – and so enthusiastic – about the amount of material that is  being written on this subject.  From academic journals, to books, to articles in glossy magazines, to amazing blogs like this one, this subject is just exploding into consciousness in a way I never expected but always dreamed.

Who do you hope will watch it?

Everyone! I know that sounds almost comically inclusive, but everyone confronts the subject of reproduction in one way or another – through choosing to procreate or not, by dealing with infertility, or just by virtue of the sheer fact that we are, each one of us, the living product of our parents’ reproductivity. So, while of course this film will speak to the special urgency that people (particularly women) face when making fertility decisions, the issues I explore directly involve every one of us: from male to female, from young to old, and from fertile or infertile.

I also hope that Mums/Moms who like the film support us by sharing it with other Mums/Moms. But overall, my dream is that people will send screening links to family, friends, and colleagues as a kind of subtle, yet powerful, way to affirm reproductive choices, and also, with any luck, as a way to spread around a few laughs (and a good healing cry) about a sensitive, and very important, subject.

What has been the reaction to the film so far?

When I discuss the film with anyone, it engages them and they want to talk about it; it’s something everyone can relate to –  whether people are coming at the film from a decisively childfree perspective, from a passionately pronatalist perspective, or from any shade in between these poles. Having the kind of open dialog that the film stimulates- on a familial, national, and even on a global level – is a deeply important element  for me so I’ve been really pleased to see the debate that it’s already creating.

How can we support the film and when/where can we find it?

Fundraising is always the most difficult part of making films. Despite their growing popularity, documentaries are never as well funded as dramas/fiction films or TV series. My Kickstarter campaign just launched (March 22nd), and there you can find a video that you’ll really appreciate and some great rewards, even a Vasectomy! So, stop by the site – you’ll get a “kick” out of it!

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Again, I’m not related to the president. The film is called TO KID OR NOT TO KID and here is the Kickstarter link: http://kck.st/2nClKWr.

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