Irene Lusztig’s Film Traces History of Motherhood

newgeneration300Giving birth is essential to our survival as a species and it is something that only women can do – so it is not surprising that there have been countless attempts to control the process.

Irene Lusztig describes her award-winning new film, The Motherhood Archives (2013, 91 minutes), as “a meditation on the maternal body as a site of institutional control, ideological surveillance, medical knowledge, and nationalist state intervention.”  Bay Area audiences can see a special screening of the film followed by a discussion with the filmmaker on Tuesday, February 18 at 7 p.m. at The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland, CA.

Irene Lusztig created The Motherhood Archives by gathering footage from films aimed at teaching women how to be pregnant, give birth, and look after babies, along with training films for obstetricians and health care professionals, and a handful of home movies. Archival montage, science fiction and an homage to 1970s feminist filmmaking are woven together to form this haunting and lyrical piece that was recently named “Best Feature Film” at the Women Media Arts and Film Festival.

Over the course of several years, Lusztig explored over 100 different sources, including newly rediscovered Soviet and French childbirth material tracing the evolution of Lamaze. The Motherhood Archives untangles the complex, sometimes surprising genealogies of maternal education.  From the first use of anesthetic ether in the 19th century to the postmodern 21st century hospital birthing suite, the film traces the cultural history of pain, the history of obstetric anesthesia, and the little-known international history of the natural childbirth and Lamaze movements. 

The Motherhood Archives puts contemporary debates about motherhood in a broader historical context. It shows the long history of pregnancy and childbirth being simultaneously ‘natural’ events and opportunities for women’s bodies to be trained and monitored by experts,” said Jillian Sandell, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University, who will be moderating the discussion at the New Parkway Theater after the film.  “It’s a beautifully made, carefully researched, and fascinating film that uses feminist filmmaking techniques to challenge some of the narratives surrounding pregnancy and childbirth and to give voice to some of the hidden histories and experiences.”

You can watch the film’s trailer at:

For tickets to the screening at The New Parkway Theater, please visit Brown Paper Tickets at:

To find out about arranging a screening in your community or school, contact  Women Make Movies (

For more information about The Motherhood Archives, please visit the film’s website  or Facebook page.