Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, Erika Cohn’s ‘Belly of the Beast‘ exposes modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons. The film will have its World Premiere as the opening night film of the 2020 Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York Digital Edition taking place June 11-20, 2020.
The pastoral farmlands surrounding the Central California Women’s Facility, the world’s largest women’s prison, help conceal the reproductive and human rights violations transpiring inside its walls. A courageous woman who was involuntarily sterilized at the facility, teams up with a radical lawyer to stop these violations. They spearhead investigations that uncover a series of statewide crimes, primarily targeting women of color, from inadequate access to healthcare to sexual assault to illegal sterilization. Together, with a team of tenacious heroines, both in and out of prison, they take to the courtroom to fight for reparations. But no one believes them.
As additional damning evidence is uncovered by the Center for Investigative Reporting, a media frenzy and series of hearings provide hope for some semblance of justice. Yet, doctors and prison officials contend that the procedures were in each person’s best interest and of an overall social benefit. Invoking the weight of the historic stain and legacy of eugenics, Belly of the Beast presents a decade long, infuriating contemporary legal drama.
Filmmaker Erika Cohn is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director/producer who Variety recognized as one of 2017’s top documentary filmmakers to watch and was featured in DOC NYC’s 2019 “40 Under 40.” Most recently, Erika completed The Judge, a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film about the first woman judge appointed to the Middle East’s Shari’a courts, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’ 2018 Independent Lens series. Erika co-directed/produced, In Football We Trust an Emmy award-winning, feature documentary about young Pacific Islander men pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’ 2016 Independent Lens series. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including a Director’s Guild of America award for her fiction short, When The Voices Fade, and has been a featured panelist/speaker at various film festivals and university conferences across the globe.
In 2013, Erika founded Idle Wild Films, Inc., which has released three feature documentaries and produced numerous branded content and commercial spots, including Gatorade’s “Win from Within” series, for which she received a 2016 Webby award nomination. Her work has been supported by IFP, the Sundance Institute, Chicken & Egg, Tribeca Institute, ITVS, Women in Film, Fork Films, BAVC and the CPB Producer’s Academy among others.