«‘At 39, Janet’s biological clock was chiming a deafening ‘tic toc’. A film about solo motherhood by choice and the contemporary role of the ...»
‘At 39, Janet’s biological clock was chiming a deafening ‘tic toc’.
A film about solo motherhood by choice and
the contemporary role of the father.’
52 minute Documentary
Producer: Janet Merewether
Writer / Director / Participant: Janet Merewether
© 2007 Film Finance Corporation Australia Limited, Screen Culture Pty Limited
and New South Wales Film and Television Office
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MAVERICK MOTHER52 minute documentary Screen Culture Pty Limited Writer/Director/Producer : Janet Merewether LOGLINE Tired of waiting for the perfect partner, and alarmed by the deafening tic-toc of her biological clock, 39 year-old filmmaker Janet Merewether decides to take life into her own hands and embark on a journey into the new social phenomenon of solo motherhood by choice.
ONE PARAGRAPH SYNOPSIS
ONE PAGE SYNOPSISTired of waiting for the perfect partner, and alarmed by the deafening tic-toc of her biological clock, 39 year-old filmmaker Janet Merewether decides to take life into her own hands and embark on a journey into the new social phenomenon of solo motherhood by choice. She joins a waiting list for a donor insemination program, but while waiting has an affair with a Swiss man and falls pregnant.
After the birth of her son Arlo, her journey now becomes that of solo motherhood by chance.
Janet documents her medical and emotional experiences and the birth of her son Arlo, through personal and at times irreverent video diaries and performed studio reconstructions which rework the traditional image of the ‘ideal mother’,Darwinian concepts of ‘natural selection’ and definitions of the role of the father. The film interweaves observational video footage, including the birth, as well as constructing imagery from genres such as the horror film, which represent the public’s aversion to the visceral, messy reality of birth.
The film follows Janet and Arlo during their first year together. Along the way Janet films her own family, including her father, as she attempts to analyse the role of the traditional father and the nuclear family. What are the implications of an absent father for a young boy and what role will other men play in Arlo’s life? The film charts Janet’s attempts to contact the biological father, her eventual phone contact when Arlo is 10 months old, then her realisation and shock that Arlo’s grandparents are no longer living in Switzerland but are here in suburban Sydney. They then receive a surprise visit from Arlo’s father on her son’s first birthday, before he again goes into hiding. From an initial expectation of knowing no paternal relatives, Janet suddenly learns that Arlo has new members of an extended family. But will he ever meet them, and will the father be willing to establish an ongoing relationship with his son? Does Janet feel threatened or worried now that she may have to relinquish some responsibility and control over her son’s life?
Solo motherhood is now on the verge of becoming chic in the west, a sign of ultimate reproductive independence for women. This documentary taps into a very current and contentious debate about many women’s inability to find a suitable and willing male partner with whom they can have children.
The film interrogates the nature of ‘family’ in contemporary western society and contemplates the past, present and future concepts of solo motherhood, and the attitudes of women who, rather than being ‘left on the shelf’ by men because they are too smart, too funny, too ‘ugly’, too talented or too independent, embrace their own sexuality and fertility to immerse themselves in life’s greatest love and greatest challenge.
WHAT THE CRITICS WROTE ABOUT ‘MAVERICK MOTHER’
5 stars – Pick of the Day
‘Historically you couldn’t be a single woman and raise a child. Here is a documentary that blends traditional storytelling and horror reconstructions to crack that time-honoured myth. One single woman’s attempt at becoming a mother raises the contentious debate of the value and need for a father figure in a child’s life… Janet’s story blossoms into a frantic and funny tale challenging the archetypal nuclear family. Fascinating.’ Time Out Sydney - 30/1/08 p82 Ellice Mol
Future Families: Maverick Mother
‘What’s a lass without a regular source of semen to do? Merewether shies from nothing in this experimental excursion into the conception of her son. Merewether analyses the role of the father in modern families against the figure of her own father, an unapologetic relic of a bygone era.
The Howards will no doubt switch channels rather than watch this heresy… but others might find its candour and emotional honesty – plus an undeniable case of the warm fuzzies that future generations are in pretty safe hands with mums like these - rather appealing.’ Age - Green Guide 31/1/08 p34 Larissa Dubecki
Television - Maverick Mother
..this is a frank, funny and brutally honest look a the life of single mother Janet Merewether…A revealing and at times gory (birth, baby poo and spew – it’s all here) look at one woman’s bold, emotional and some will say controversial approach to parenthood, lightened by an at times comic approach.’ West Australian – Seven Days 26/1/08 p38 Sugar and spice and all things biological ‘As a bold illustration of the dilemma of some women – keen to have babies but with no eligible, willing men in sight – this documentary comes up trumps..’ Weekend Australian – Review 26/1/08 p38 Jill Rowbotham
AUDIENCE RESPONSEI feel like someone has made a film of my experience - wow!
I wanted to drop by and say "good on you mate!". How fantastic and I was simply so impressed with your story and the strength of your conviction and your sheer tenacity to have your own child.
I loved it - I switched channels and saw a natural birth happening and I was hooked!
You are an impressive, passionate, loving amazing mum.
I had mixed emotions as I was watching your unique story and this wonderfully made documentary; I laughed and cried - got anxious and felt relieved. But as I turned the T.V off at the end of it, I had this massive smile on my face: I felt liberated from my fears of being a solo ‘woman’ for the rest of my life.
I LOVED IT !!! I hope it is repeated again soon. Your down to earth, warm and very honest approach made this compelling viewing.
I really loved your film and got an insight into why childbirth and child rearing is so special to most women.
Hey there super mum, your flick was just fab!
You handled the material beautifully - with such a lightness of touch - even though it must have been some of the hardest stuff to deal with…- one's own strong emotions, intimate family relationships and challenging one's parents view of the world.
I have just watched the lovely, brave, touching story of Arlo’s first year for the first time and I laughed and cried. Janet, you are brave and gutsy and your little man is so gorgeous… To have been brave enough to put this on film was quite wonderful and it will be an emotional legacy for your little boy when he grows up. I have kept the tape and plan in due course to show it to my son. You have inspired me to get out the video camera again!
It is really impressive work - was very moving too, and your strength, ethical and aesthetic sensibilities beamed throughout…It had the (lost) radicalness of ‘70’s feminist films’ but so contemporary too.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT / EXTENDED SYNOPSIS‘My first ‘maternal’ feelings were aroused whilst watching Eraserhead as a teenager. I knew then that I would never be a traditional wife and mother!’ Janet Merewether MAVERICK MOTHER is an autobiographical hybrid documentary about film-maker Janet Merewether’s embarkation on a journey of pregnancy and solo motherhood. In contemporary Australia, many educated working women find that they cannot find male partners willing to participate in relationships or parenting. Why are so many attractive and talented women single and childless? Has the breakdown of the marriage structure and the ability of professional women to ‘have it all’ enabled men to relinquish their responsibilities? Rather than accepting their fate as ‘barren spinsters’ and remaining childless, and due to the availability of work, childcare and donor programs, many of these women are now finding ways to conceive and raise children as solo mothers.
At the age of 39, Janet considered finding a bisexual sperm donor before joining a nine month hospital waiting list for an anonymous donor program. However, after a brief affair, Janet falls pregnant and decides to keep the baby even though the Swiss father vanishes. The baby was conceived the ‘old-fashioned way’ after a Nine Inch Nails industrial rock gig, quantities of vodka and a one night stand. With the help of friends and family Janet decides that she is wellsupported in her decision to keep the child. She wonders whether the absence of a father will have an impact on her son later on in life. Will the father ever return to see his child and will Arlo ever meet his Swiss grandparents? What is the role of the father and how is this role changing in contemporary society? When Arlo‘s surfer father pays an unexpected visit on the baby’s first birthday, Janet is forced to consider her role as a solo mother, and whether, in the future, Arlo may indeed have a man he can call ‘dad’.
MAVERICK MOTHER documents the emotional journey from pregnancy, childbirth and the first year of baby Arlo’s life through video diaries, photographs and studio reconstructions. Through the interweaving of observational video with performative and archival sequences, the documentary examines the role of ‘mother’ and ‘father’, as well as the outdated notion of ‘illegitimacy’ and the stigma attached to the term ‘single mother’. The documentary acknowledges the pain of unwed mothers in the 1960s who were forced to relinquish their babies and the horrors of the the 1870s when solo mothers had little option but to commit infanticide through drowning or smothering their ex-nuptial babies. Archival photographs and footage of traditional ‘nuclear’ families will sit in contrast to images of a confident and independent 21st century mama.
Whilst on the two year journey, Janet keeps a video diary of her experiences. Video footage of daily life, yoga classes, medical tests and the birth show the physical stresses and sensations involved with pregnancy. Janet also films her family and friends and their responses to her unconventional decision to keep her baby as a solo mother. These video diaries also document Janet’s attempts to locate the father of her child.
MAVERICK MOTHER examines contemporary heterosexual relationships and the ‘ticking of the biological clock’. Janet made a conscious decision at the age of 38 to attempt have a baby, whether or not a father was involved. She initially tried to ‘make baby’ with a bisexual friend, but when his gay partner found out and smashed his house and piano to pieces, decided that anonymous donor would be a less complicated pathway.
Janet put her name on a hospital waiting list for a donor sperm program. She had seen too many women rush into disastrous relationships only to end up with a lovely baby but a miserable separation. In discussions with the hospital counsellor she learns that many women with absent or depressed fathers choose to become single mothers, as they are not dependent on, and do not have expectations of male support. Janet is forced to consider the relationship with her own father, who, along with his father, suffered periods of depression during his life.
The documentary shows examples of the donor profiles presented to the filmmaker when her name came to the top of the list. Distressed about the lack of information about the people themselves, other than their height, eye and hair colour and profession, Janet is uncertain as to whether to proceed with the program. She is worried that she and her child will never have the opportunity to meet the biological father or extended family. She is also influenced by an adopted friend who describes the distress she felt at not knowing her biological origins for most of her life.
Many single and lesbian women are now choosing to bypass the perfect husband and head straight for the baby, often turning to new reproductive technologies such as donor insemination and IVF, where specific aesthetic and genetic characteristics can be selected by the mother. In the documentary, a futuristic image of a sperm vending machine, where a woman selects the appearance and qualities of the baby she desires, will illustrate how close our society is to making ‘designer babies’ mainstream. Is this a reflection of consumerism or a consequence of the fact that many capable and loving women are not finding male partners willing to make the financial, emotional and physical effort to raise a baby? Their only solution is to be a ‘supermum’ and make the journey alone.