A new documentary that debuted at the Boulder International Film Festival calls overpopulation a looming and underreported issue.
Directed and produced by Denver-based Tiroir A Films, “Mother: Caring Our Way Out of the Population Dilemma” confronts what it labels a social, political and religious taboo – rapid population growth – and its role in natural resource depletion and economic inequality.
Pointing to the United Nations’ projection of a world population of 9 billion by 2045, the film calls for a more responsible approach to reproduction and the promotion of a global culture of female empowerment and respect for women’s rights. It features commentary by population scholars, economists, authors and scientists, including the outspoken Paul Ehrlich, author of 1968 book “The Population Bomb,” which has been criticized for its predictions of global famine in the 1970s.
Beth Osnes, assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of Colorado at Boulder and co-founder of Mothers Acting Up, an international children’s rights organization, is featured in the film, which premiered Friday at the Boulder International Film Festival.
The film follows her on a trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she meets a young woman, Zinet, who has chosen to pursue a college education instead of following the cultural norm of marrying in her early teens. While studying accounting, Zinet also cares for her eight siblings, parents, and the daughter of her sister, who died from AIDS.
The film depicts a local radio show, produced by the Population Media Center, which broadcasts serialized radio and television shows in Ethiopia and other countries aimed at educating young people about sex and reproductive health, as influencing Zinet’s decision not to get married as a young teenager.
“I think the real message of the film is that the women in the developing world who are having all these children don’t actually want to be having that many children,” Osnes said during a public discussion after the screening, held in the ‘Call 2 Action’ tent erected on the Pearl Street Mall adjacent to the theater.
Providing education and services to foster healthy communication is key to helping these women achieve what they want, she said.
While the film highlights that young women in poorer countries often face pressures from largely patriarchal social norms and in many cases cannot afford birth control or family planning assistance, it does not shy away from issues confronting the developed world. The film cites the example that if every person on the planet lived an average U.S. lifestyle, six planets like Earth would be required to sustain everybody. It also focuses on the high rate of teen pregnancies in the U.S. and addresses the role of the Roman Catholic Church in pushing an anti-contraceptive doctrine on the world stage.
The film bills population growth as a topic that remains largely unaddressed in the political and public realm. During the discussion session, producer Joyce Johnson said many environmental organizations refused to be interviewed for the film due to the controversial nature of the subject.
Al Bartlett, a professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder who also features in the film, said local environmental organizations won’t take a stand on population growth because it’s politically incorrect to do so. “The scientific community won’t do it. The scientists know the arithmetic very well, but I had an article in a physics journal about population growth and scientists kept saying ‘we don’t want to touch this,’” he said.
When interviewed after the discussion, Osnes, who grew up in a Catholic family with nine siblings and has two biological children and an adopted daughter from South Africa, said she does not endorse national regulations such as the two-child policy implemented in some Asian countries.
“I’ve seen what happens from it. Being in Vietnam, in Hanoi, you see all these clinics with [images of] fetuses on the storefront. I thought it was Operation Rescue. It’s not. It’s sonograms you can get for hire because you want to abort if it’s a girl. It has nothing to do with morality or anything. Everybody just wants a boy,” she said.
“What we find in these places where you’re limited to two is these imbalances in the population, gender wise, which is a recipe for war. Too many men and not enough women: that’s going to be weird, that’s not a good thing,” she said.
The film also draws attention to gender inequalities in the political system, highlighting that in the U.S. just 16.8 percent of House of Representatives members are women. This figure was sourced from a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which ranks the U.S. 71st out of 188 countries based on the percentage of women in the lower or single House.
Somewhat ironically, the film debuted on the same day the House voted to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
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