By Katrina Medoff
When NYWIFT member Cait Johnston first heard about the Jane Collective — a real-life group of women who helped others get abortions before Roe v. Wade — at a NYWIFT screening, she knew it was a story she had to tell.
She teamed up with fellow member Rachel Carey, a screenwriter and director she know through a NYC theater company called The Shelter, to create Ask for Jane, a narrative feature film that they are currently crowdfunding for on Seed&Spark.
NYWIFT member Katrina Medoff spoke with Johnston, the film’s creator and lead actor, and Carey to learn more about the inspiration for the film and why this is an important story to tell right now:
Can you tell me more about what Ask for Jane is about?
Rachel Carey: Ask for Jane is based on the real-life story of the Jane Collective, a group of women who operated like a spy network to provide safe, illegal abortions to the women of Chicago in the years 1968-1973, immediately before the passage of Roe v. Wade. The Jane Collective ultimately provided over 10,000 women with abortions before their arrest in 1972. Cait and I were both amazed by their story and surprised that we’d never heard of them before.
What was your inspiration for creating Ask for Jane?
Cait Johnston: I’d actually been wanting to make a feature film for a long time, but I wasn’t sure what it would be about. Then I went to a NYWIFT screening last May of Mary Dore’s wonderful doc She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry — it was the first time I’d ever heard of the Jane Collective, and I got chills. This was the movie, this was the story that I had to tell.
Ask for Jane is a perfect conflation of my work as an artist and as an activist with Planned Parenthood — The Janes are a pivotal piece of women’s history, and it’s time to tell their story to a wider audience. Then November happened, and this project became (unfortunately) even more timely and relevant than I’d ever imagined.
Still from the Ask for Jane trailer
This is obviously a project with a lot of great female roles, and it’s wonderful that this story is being told by a female writer/director. Will there be other women involved behind the camera as well?
RC: This project certainly passes the Bechdel test with flying colors! We are meeting with some female producers about it, and we’re certainly looking to have a strong female presence on the crew.
CJ: I was looking at the infographics from the Geena Davis Institute [on Gender in Media] and I can’t wait to turn those ratios on their heads with Ask for Jane. In the top 500 films from 2007-2012, women actors were outnumbered 2.25:1, only 30.8% of speaking characters were women, and of those women, a third of them were shown in sexually revealing attire or partially naked. Ask for Jane easily breaks all these statistics. I’m definitely interested in involving as many women as possible behind the camera too, and I’m excited to work with male allies as well!
Why do you think it’s important to tell this story right now?
CJ: People have forgotten what life in America was like before Roe v. Wade was passed. Restricting access to abortion never leads to fewer abortions; it leads to more women dying from trying to take matters into their own hands. With conservative lawmakers attacking women’s reproductive rights like never before, I think it’s important to remind (and in many cases, to teach) people what our country looks like without safe and legal access to abortion. If we don’t learn from our history, how can we ever hope to make progress?
ARVE Error: need id and provider
What has been your process with crowdfunding on Seed&Spark, and why did you choose that funding route for this project?
RC: We discussed going a more traditional route: making a short film, sending it to festivals, getting people to look at our feature script, and hopefully getting funding that way. But we realized that the “traditional route” would take at least two years before we were filming. We felt the story was urgently needed now, and we also expected that Hollywood would be gun shy about the political content. It seemed like a great fit for crowdfunding.
CJ: The story of the Jane Collective is ultimately an empowering one of women coming together to help each other when society won’t — and that’s exactly how I wanted to fundraise the film! If every person who supported this film donated just $1, we’d have our budget for production in no time. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but those dollars add up.
One of the things that excited me about Seed&Spark is that it’s a crowdfunding platform built and run by women! Seed&Spark is also unique in that it’s specifically designed for independent filmmakers: people can contribute money OR lend items that we need (vintage cars, camera equipment, locations, craft services, etc.) and have the monetary value of that item apply to our funds raised. So if you’ve got a car made before 1968, give us a call!
What should people do if they want to support Ask for Jane?
CJ: Donate what you can and tell all your friends to do the same. We only have until April 5 to hit our goal or we won’t get to keep any of the funds we’ve raised so far, so time really is of the essence. Show your support at www.seedandspark.com/fund/askforjane.
Anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?
RC: I’d like folks to know that our film is going to be fun to watch. If you hear that it’s an abortion movie, you might think it’s all about women dying in back alleys and must be impossibly depressing. But our film is about these active, badass women who really looked out for other women in need.
I like heist movies and comedy, so I brought some of that sensibility to this screenplay; it’s a drama, but it should also have elements of a thriller and some humor, too. These are likable women — in the movie and in real life!
Photos courtesy of Ask for Jane.
NYWIFT member Sascha Just directed and produced Ellis, the first feature-length documentary about the late legendary New Orleans pianist and educator, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Marsalis composed and performed major works of modern jazz infused with a uniquely New Orleans touch. Just spoke to us about all the ways in which jazz has influenced her work, getting to know a creative legend, and her DOC NYC premiere.READ MORE
In the documentary short The House of LaBeija, directed and produced by NYWIFT member Fredgy Noël, we meet the eponymous prominent ballroom family and safe haven for transgender women, queer people, and those in need of community. Over the course of 10 minutes, several members of the house dance, vogue, and celebrate their identities across a strikingly glamorous mansion that seems to be an embodiment of their safe harbor. Fredgy Noël spoke to us about ballroom culture, creative inspirations, and what’s next on her horizon.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Jill Woodward edited the documentary 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture, which won the Audience Award at DOC NYC 2022. In this deeply personal tale, a gay seminary scholar and a straight activist, seeking to uncover the origins of the rabid homophobia of the conservative church, make a shocking discovery: an erroneous translation of the term “homosexual” in the Bible in 1946 that has been weaponized against the LGBTQIA+ community ever since. Woodward spoke to us about the editing process, what she learned along the way, and which types of projects excite her the most.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Panayiota Pagoulatos returned to Cannes a second time this year to attend MIPCOM, where she was pleased to find celebrations of women and diversity in entertainment, and to preview several exciting new TV series.READ MORE