Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 11th June 2000
Production compaines: Aubin Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 3.8 / 10
Producer: Catherine Gund
On Hostile Ground takes a closer look at the lives of three doctors who provide abortions in Montana, Alabama, and upstate New York. They vary in background but have one thing in common: They are picketed and persecuted by their community for the services they perform. After seven abortionist killings (and many more injured), shockwaves have shuddered through this decreasing sect of the medical community.
This documentary puts a human face on an issue rife with extremes, and from an angle seldom considered. The focus shifts from doctor to archival news footage to what members of the community have to say. Unfortunately, this exact cycle repeats monotonously throughout the 73 minutes. News footage of violence becomes repetitive, especially when it is related to the same case. Every now and then these dragging stretches of scenes are punctuated by statistics on a black screen or shots of protesters in front of clinics.
Admirably, while the documentary is staunchly pro-choice, this is captured through the movie's subjects instead of heavy-handed photography. Because the doctors talk directly to the camera and not to a narrator, connection is a little easier with the audience, no matter the stance. The statistics that are utilized aren't trying to prove or disprove the right to choose. The number of women who have abortions in any given year isn't important to the argument. The numbers concentrate solely on the number of professionals in the field of abortionism and those that have suffered due to their profession.
Unfortunately, though the doctors profiled have compelling personalities and views, to hear them say that a woman should have the right to choose several times during any given 10 minute span tries anyone's attention, whether you agree or not. There is also a great deal of extraneous footage that isn't quite captivating enough to sustain focus. This may be due to the filmmakers having more interesting discussions than visuals to work with.
Surprisingly, there is only a brief mention the shooting of Dr. Gunn in Florida, though the entire basis of the film is how these doctors are in danger. Dr. Gunn was one of the first abortionist victims to make national news. His death occurred well before the shooting of Dr. Slepian, of whom so much is heard during the course of On Hostile Ground.
On the other hand, On Hostile Ground provides a complete, and fairly objective, portrait of the communities these doctors serve. The Christians that picket the offices but don't get violent are not judged for their convictions, either by the filmmakers or the doctors' staffs. Patients' opinions are juxtaposed against other local residents, staff who work with clients, and families of the professionals. A viewer can get the feel of what it's like to live in that town, without political ideas thrown in your face.
The documentary seeks, and succeeds, in putting a human face on the medical practitioners providing health services to those who choose to have an abortion. It edges on preaching -- wondering if the extremists that shoot such people are any better than those they harm -- but considering the severity of violence, this is easily excused. It could have been shorter, but the lives of these doctors are intriguing enough to warrant a document of their stories.