JC Documentary Maker’s First Feature ‘Political Bodies’ Heading into Festival Circuit

Christopher Englese discusses the constitutionality of the proposed legislation with law professor Meredith Harbach.

Christopher Englese has a wide variety of interests. When he’s not advocating for a more bike-friendly city with Bike JC, he’s behind the camera as the director for Allied Production House, creating documentaries about everything from theater pioneer Richard Foreman (Mindflux) to Titusville, Fla., the home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (Welcome to Titusville).

“I’ve always been into documentaries…It’s kind of like investigative journalism, but you’re able to have a little bit more freedom and find the stories that really should be told,” he says.

“Sometimes when you’re a journalist, people don’t allow you into their lives, but there’s something about making a documentary that I think people are more comfortable with. There are real human stories.”

On Thursday, his first feature-length documentary, Political Bodies, will make its world premiere at the famed Austin Film Festival in Texas. The 80-minute film, Englese says, documents the fearlessness and determination needed to stand up for one’s autonomy against state legislators as it follows the legislative outcome of three bills that many argued would severely cut access to women’s health clinics and abortion services in the state of Virginia.

He says that in 2011 and 2012, a record-breaking number of abortion restrictions were passed throughout the country. Virginia was one of the states that led the charge with legislators attempting to pass everything from a personhood amendment to transvaginal ultrasounds; the state quickly became ground zero in the fight for a woman’s right to choose.

Englese interviewed activists and legislators from both sides of the argument over the course of three months in early 2012. The film ends with a showdown between activists and members of the Virginia Board of Health as they issue a final vote on clinic regulations.

He notes that following President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Virginia stood out when it broke a long tradition of Republicanism and voted for the Democrat.

“It was interesting to see a state run from red into an arguably purple state,” he says. “I thought, ‘If anything can happen, it could be here.’…There’s something I’m calling the ‘Virginia effect.’ After initial protests, other states sort of followed suit once they brought down some of their requirements. Suddenly, Alabama backs out of ultrasound, then Pennsylvania and then Idaho.”

His film focuses not on the legality or morality of abortion, Englese says, but simply follows the stories of protesters, legislators and their journeys. “I wanted to focus on the bills and the legislators pushing for them, the legislators coming out against them…then I contacted women’s groups, conservative groups, and that’s how I assembled the cast and dug out the story.”

Response to Political Bodies has been positive so far, he said, with the flick already getting accepted into more festivals around the country. “I think it’s remarkable,” he said. “I’m already on to thinking what’s going to be my next one.”

Possible subjects? Englese says he’s interested in laws that affect autonomy and a wide array of topics from assisted suicide and changing medical marijuana laws to a new dirty version of heroin that recently popped up in Chicago.

“There’s so much information out there these days, but everyone just kind of talks to their own. By using these stories, I can make the Other, not the Other…It’s all about understanding a little bit more. We’re all human and we’re trying to do the best we can. I’m hoping my documentaries can open people’s eyes up to that.”

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Photo courtesy of Christopher Englese

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.