When filmmaker Eliza Hittman started reading about Savita Halappanavar, the dentist who was denied a lifesaving abortion in Ireland in 2012, she knew that her next project had to be about abortion access. By 2020, her new film Never Sometimes Rarely Always was premiering at Sundance, a touching story of a teen girl who must travel across state lines to access an abortion with her cousin. SheKnows talked exclusively with Hittman and the film’s stars, Talia Ryder and Sidney Flanigan, about what this project meant to them — and the surprising lessons they learned along the way.
“It was important for me to make a film about how challenging it is in this country to get a legal abortion,” Hittman explained to SHE Media’s Video VP Reshma Gopaldas. To study up for the projects, she conducted hands-on research: “I went in [to crisis centers] and I took pregnancy tests. It was important for me to understand what that experience was like.”
For Ryder, who plays Skylar in the film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always was an opportunity to reach people emotionally who may not have understood the hardships involved in gaining safe access to abortion.
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We were compelled to be part of NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS because of the dire need to protect people’s reproductive rights. For the past year and some change, this film and its subject matter have been our number one priority. The topic of reproductive rights has always been of importance to us but now more than ever, as rights to reproductive health are being chipped away. This week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals used an extraordinary measure to allow Gov. Greg Abbott to drastically restrict essential, time-sensitive abortion procedures using his COVID-19 executive order. We find ourselves at a pivotal point in history. Though we are young, we are wise enough to realize that we are in a position to affect realistic change through art, as are you. This story will save lives and has the ability to inflict positive change in women’s reproductive rights. This isn’t a story about right versus wrong, it is about the desperate need that young women have to be better-taken care of and protected. We ask that you take the time to listen to our story, especially during this time of crisis. We ask you to listen because we fear for our mothers, our sisters, the women in our families, the women across the globe, and all people with uteruses. We both took this opportunity because we truly believed in Eliza's story and its potential to change the world and reshape the narrative that has haunted women for so long. Our stories as young women have been ignored for so long and Eliza finally took the risk of telling it, please give us every opportunity to be heard. NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is an invitation to join us as advocates and allies. We’re in this together. Sincerely, Talia Ryder and Sidney Flanigan
“I really hope everyone that watches the movie just really walks away with a new understanding for what women have to go through and a new sense of empathy,” she said. “But I really hope also that teen girls watching it and anyone with a uterus feels well-represented and listened to.”
For Sidney Flanigan, who plays Autumn, the experience of filming wasn’t just an opportunity to do good (though she felt that way too). It was also genuinely educational: “The crisis centers were a totally new concept to me,” she admitted. “I had never heard of that before and I didn’t realize how prevalent they were. I honestly wasn’t aware of how many women travel to get abortions.”
We’re willing to bet a lot of women aren’t aware just how common it is to travel across state lines (or much, much farther) in order to access abortions — and that’s exactly why this festival hit is so powerful. Women deserve access to reproductive healthcare no matter where they live, and that’s a message many people still need to hear.
“I don’t think one piece of art can necessarily change the world,” Flanigan added. “But if you can change one person at a time, I think that can be a good thing.”