The documentary film ‘The Carrier’ premiered last night at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. In the film, young mother Mutinta is a Zambian subsistence farmer in a polygamous marriage who has just learned she is HIV positive. Newly pregnant, Mutinta does everything she can to protect her unborn baby while navigating complicated family dynamics and village politics. Newcomer Maggie Betts sculpts a sensitive observational portrait of one woman’s struggle leading up to her newborn’s birth.
Interview with Director: Maggie Betts
VIMOOZ: What made you make a film on this subject?
MB: I’ve been interested in mother to child transmission for awhile, and I had been traveling to Africa working with AIDS groups and realized how mother to child transmission was a great prevention for HIV. The subject more broadly is what happens when a woman with HIV becomes pregnant, and her trying to save a baby before birth, so I thought there were a lot of dramatic paradigms in that, in the kind of maternal sacrifice. And there’s also an innate suspense, the feeling of a clock ticking, and the audience is waiting to see what happens.
VIMOOZ: How long was the filmmaking process?
MB: Oct 2009-April 2010 6 months of shooting in Africa, going home for a break, then going back. 4 months of just shooting.
VIMOOZ: What were some of the obstacles you had shooting in Zambia?
MB: They were enormous– not speaking the language, trying to ingratiate ourselves into a sheltered community of people who didn’t know anything about America, and had never seen a a movie. And the obstacles surrounding a woman’s pregnancy, and when she would give birth, because we had to film that. We had a time window of two weeks, when we knew she could give birth on any given day and we had to be ready to shoot the birth. There was one day when they thought she was going into labor at 3am but it was a false alarm. So one of the biggest obstacles was constantly getting to ready to go with all of our equipment.
VIMOOZ: How did you choose the subject, Mutinta?
MB: We were lucky to have UNICEF work with us on the field, and they support a clinic, and through that clinic we got the names of a few women who were pregnant with HIV. It was a very complicated process, but we were able to track down a few of these women. When we met her we just fell in love with her, and knew she was the right one.
VIMOOZ: Was she enthusiastic right away, or did you have to convince her? What was it like having her as a subject?
MB: She had never seen a movie, so we had to explain the process; basically, that we would tell her story, and it might inspire people to help other women like her. She’s a wonderful and kind person who believed in that idea, even though she didn’t totally understand everything. It’s a culture where women are not as important as men; she’s in a polygamous marriage, no one ever paid attention to her, or focused on her, so it was kind of shocking to her to have people care about her and to have people come focus on her life. It was new idea to her that her story would be interesting to anyone else– she was surprised that anyone would care about how she feels about things and what she goes through.
VIMOOZ: Willl she see the film?
MB: I hope so, although there’s no electricity in the community. The film is also about the community, and we fell in love with her family as well, so I hope we can bring the film to them– there are programs where you can screen something off the back of a truck with a generator, so we hope to figure something out.
Given how editing has evolved, telling a story with rapidly moving cuts, I wonder if, for someone who has never seen a film, processing the images and words would be too much. But I hope not.
VIMOOZ: What was your experience like making the film as your directorial debut?
MB: It’s really hard, so unbelievably consuming– I can’t imagine a more consuming job than directing a small film, because your involved in every aspect. But at the same time, the most rewarding, to be involved in something so deeply, and to see it through development, editing, scoring, color correction, etc. I had to give up everything else, and I actually wanted to give everything else up, to focus on this project.
VIMOOZ: How do you feel about your film being at Tribeca?
MB: It’s a amazing opportunity and an amazing showcase.
VIMOOZ: Is the film going to other festivals?
MB: We’ve applied to other festivals, and hope potential distributors will take interest and will want to support it. We’re doing everything we can, and hoping the works speaks for itself, and people will want to help us share it with the world.
VIMOOZ: Do you have any new projects?
MB: I have a lot of ideas, but nothing real yet. But I’m not really done with the film; there’s work to be done as it’s part of raising awareness of HIV in Africa. I wouldn’t move forward with another film unless I was obsessed with the idea. I would make another film, either narrative or documentary, but I have to really want it.