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“Lake of Fire”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Lake of Fire,” ThinkFilm, 2007]

The subject of “Lake of Fire” — the decades-long debate over abortion — is exactly the kind of thing we typically go to the movies to escape from. Director Tony Kaye knows this, and he has no interest in making any concessions to the audience: his is one of the most defiantly uncommercial films ever made. It wasn’t enough for Kaye to make a documentary on abortion, and it wasn’t enough to make it three hours long. It wasn’t even enough to film it in black and white. Brashest of all, he’s dared to make the film even handed; to treat both sides equally and honestly. If he’d presented either side in a particularly positive or negative light, he might have had an easier road to travel, financially. It’s easy to make money preaching to one choir or another. Instead, he ignored all of that on the way to crafting an authoritative and possible definitive portrait of one of the most controversial issues of our time.

Kaye’s been shooting the film, often with his own money and a skeletal crew, for over a decade: the earliest footage we see in the film dates to an anti-abortion rally in January of 1993. “Lake of Fire” follows a loose timeline (and includes graphic footage from real abortions) but the film is largely concerned with letting critics on both sides of the issue expound on their positions. The discussions run the gamut from illuminating to disturbing to infuriating. Your feelings about abortion may not change, but it’s virtually impossible to walk out of the film with anything less than a great deal more information on the issue than when you walked in.

For me, the largest revelation involved understanding more fully than I ever had before how abortion sits at the nexus of so many different issues: from the right to access to birth control, to the belief in the death penalty, to race, to religion, to gender. Abortion draws “true believers” from all sides who want to trade in absolutes while discussing enormous moral, ethical and spiritual issues that are based in the fundamental unknowns of life on earth. Watching “Lake of Fire,” you begin to see this enormous tapestry of the human condition; we all experience things differently yet we try to make ourselves believe we are all exactly the same.

There are many interesting speakers and a range of viewpoints in the film (it’s hard to conceive of any that Kaye doesn’t air at least once), but the most provocative may be the one espoused by The Village Voice‘s Nat Hentoff, a pro-life liberal who argues that abortion is almost certainly murder, and that someone who is truly pro-life is someone who is also anti-murder, and thus also anti-war, anti-death penalty and anti-poverty. As Kaye’s film shows, this is rarely the case.

It’s unfathomable to consider how many choices Kaye must have had to make over the course of shooting and editing his 152-minute opus, and indeed how many of them were the right one, including the decision to shoot in black and white, which not only adds an unsettling dimension to the scenes inside abortion clinics, but also gives the film a timeless look amidst all the ridiculous 90s haircuts, not to mention the air of a historical document. Those who prefer a distanced documentarian with at least the appearance of impartiality will approve of the way Kaye becomes almost invisible within his own film, never seen on camera and rarely heard off it.

The film ends with a sober and non-judgmental account of a woman having an abortion, one who is clearly unfit to raise a child (on her own, after her relationship with an abusive spouse has ended) but who finishes her message of happiness to Kaye’s camera by breaking down in tears about what she’s done. While discussing the abortion with her clinic’s caretakers, she worries that she is “scared of the uncertain” for her unborn baby. Aren’t we all.

“Lake of Fire” opens in limited release October 3rd (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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