Documentary by Melbourne filmmaker follows four brides from across cultures to understand what marriage means to the modern woman
Women spend their lives receiving contradictory messages about marriage: an aspiration, a fantasy, a trap. An ancient institution, whose meaning has been fiercely debated the world over, it can be difficult to pin-point what marriage means to modern women around the world.
‘I Am No Bird’, a feature length documentary of 77 minutes and directed by Em Baker, follows four brides from India, Australia, Turkey and Mexico as they prepare for their weddings.
To Benay, in Turkey, a wedding means a new beginning and a new family, something she lost with the passing of her mother when she was a child. To honour this, she’s getting married on Mother’s Day. To Anna, in Australia, it means being made one with her partner and her God, and preparing to lose her virginity. To Luthanlu, in India, it means an opportunity to continue her Rongmei Naga culture, a tribal minority in the North-East of the country. And to Dalia, in Mexico, it means the validation of her relationship with her girlfriend, and hopefully, reconciliation with her conservative mother.
The women prepare for their weddings in various ways: Anna plans away excitedly, doesn’t let brutal comments from the dress-maker get her down, and visits a sex shop in preparation for the Wedding Night. Dalia enlists the style advice of a straight friend on her shopping trips and takes part in an emotional civil ceremony. Benay has a Nikah at the mosque, and hosts an elaborate henna night for all the women in her life. Luthanlu’s entire community band together to help prepare: no one has money but everyone is ready to help.
Climaxing with the ceremonies of the four women, there are mixed emotions. In Turkey and India, the sense of giving a daughter to another family feels very real and quite painful. In Australia, Anna is thrilled to finally be married in the eyes of God. And in Mexico, an emotional Dalia reflects that her mother’s attendance at her wedding means she’s finally been accepted by her family.
The film closes with the women’s thoughts on what love and marriage means to them.
“I recently found myself pondering a question that I expect many people of a similar age can relate to: should I get married, and what would that even mean? This curiosity was what initially inspired me to seek out other women from around the world, and speak to them about their lives, their cultures, and their reasons for getting married,” says Em.
“Historically, marriage has had less to do with love and more to do with trade and the possession of women. In this film, it was important for me to speak directly with women, and give voice to their ideas about marriage. I wanted to include a diverse range of women, from politicised backgrounds that are too regularly spoken for. As gay marriage continues to be a discussion point globally, I felt it was important to include Dalia, a lesbian woman. It may surprise some audiences that Catholic Mexico, Dalia’s home country, legalised gay marriage before countries like Australia, where gay marriage remained illegal at the time of production.”
Em says at a time when Islam, and particularly Muslim women, inspires a lot of debate, she wanted to include Benay, a Turkish Muslim woman. Although Australia is fast becoming a secular nation, she decided to include Anna, a devout Christian who is somewhat of an outlier in the culture. “I also felt it important to speak with Luthanlu, a Naga woman from North-East India, whose wedding is symbolic of the many shifts her tribal community have undergone in the past century. None of the casting is tokenistic: Luthanlu is an Indian woman, not the Indian woman. The individual stories and quirks of each woman are explored in their journeys, from Anna’s love of bargain-hunting to Benay’s grief at the loss of her mother,”says the Melbourne-based filmmaker, who has worked in film for the last seven years in a variety of roles, including VFX on ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ (nominated for four Academy Awards), ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (winner of six Academy Awards), and as a production/editing assistant on documentaries ‘Inequality for All’ (winner of the 2013 Special Jury Prize at Sundance) and ‘The Last Season’ (Independent Spirit Award nominee, 2015). Em’s directorial debut, ‘Spoke’, was an official selection of North West Fest and the Oakland International Film Festival, and won the Audience Choice Award at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Em has also worked for the past four years as a media teacher with Parkville College, a school serving students in juvenile detention, and is currently in development on a new feature documentary with Melbourne company Film Camp.
For more information, Facebook: @iamnobirdfilm; Instagram: @iamnobirdfilm; Website: mariposastfilms.com