Since it’s touted by reviewers and publicity people alike as a “reallife” or “high-brow soap opera,” you might think Jennifer Fox’s newest documentary, “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman,” isn’t about serious stuff. But, boy — or woman! — would you be wrong.
The film has aired at big-name festivals from Sundance to Edinburgh to Vancouver to acclaim. Fox, a director who has been involved with documentary film-making for more than 20 years, created this six-hour documentary to showcase both the complexities of being a modern woman as she saw them in her own life and the experiences of women around the globe — from New York to Cambodia to South Africa to Russia. Facing the many conflicting messages women now get about “choice,” the women of this film are struggling to find how they can belong, and what they, as women, are entitled to want and have. The six one-hour segments follow Jennifer’s own struggles with relationships and her biological clock, explore the situations of her friends, then zoom out to explore global women’s issues — in particular the sex trade.
Fox excels at what she calls “pass the camera” technique, which draws on her vision of female conversations: open-ended and circular, more process- than product-oriented and not always linear. In short, more kitchen-table talk than traditional interviews. “Pass the camera” may be physically simple (it’s just what it sounds like), but the result is astounding. Viewers will be pulled in not only by Fox’s vulnerability, but by the frankness and openness with which her subjects respond to being partners in a larger conversation — honest and personal discussions about masturbation, abortion, rape, cultural assumptions about sex, and how women feel about childbearing, to name just a few. A philosophy as much as a camera technique, the concept of “pass the camera” has kept “Flying” from going stale or static; viewers now post videos to the film’s website (flyingconfessions.com) and continue the conversation.