SXSW ’22: Three Questions for ‘Shouting Down Midnight’ Director Gretchen Stoeltje

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As the 2022 South by SouthWest Film Festival gets underway, we investigate the personalities, film tastes and need-to-know details of this year’s filmmaking crop, with just three questions. In this edition: ​​Gretchen Stoeltje, director of Shouting Down Midnight.

Texas is center stage in Gretchen Stoeltje’s documentary Shouting Down Midnight, the state that brought us the historic Roe v. Wade. The film puts the spotlight on Senator Wendy Davis as she filibusters against SB5, a predecessor to SB8, in defense of women’s access to reproductive healthcare. 

As the capitol filled to capacity, Senator Davis read testimony from women strongly opposed to the bill which would effectively force draconian, pre-Roe v. Wade conditions. The bill ultimately passed, but not before hundreds of thousands of citizens made it clear that the Texas legislature had gone too far. People were activated. Lives were transformed. History was made.

Shouting Down Midnight makes its world premiere in the Documentary Spotlight section at SXSW. The film’s schedule can be found here.

Letterboxd: If you were programming your SXSW 2022 film as a double feature with another film from the history of cinema, what would that other film be? 

Gretchen Stoeltje: If I could program Shouting Down Midnight with another film from the history of cinema it would be Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Like Shouting Down Midnight, Giant’s female lead, a brilliant, articulate, compassionate and progressive thinker, interrupts the clubby men folk to speak on behalf of rural Texans of color without access to health care—and spends the rest of the film striving for equity in a state that still can’t deliver that today. 

Describe your personality in three movies. 

The Russian comedy Bed and Sofa: a film about polygamy and abortion in pre-Stalinist Moscow: stark, gritty—also funny! Amélie: I love a mercurial, complicated female lead with a photo booth obsession. Das Boot: extremely claustrophobic and hysterically afraid of underwater death. 

What’s one thing you’d love viewers to know (no spoilers!) about your film before they go in?

The struggle for reproductive justice is nothing short of a fight—but it doesn’t look like one. There’s a shot in the film of a woman with a tiny baby as she sits down in the gallery of the Senate to watch Wendy Davis’ filibuster. This moment symbolizes two things for me. First, these are peaceful protestors who came not to use violence but to use their voices to disrupt. Second, this was a reminder to me that the issue Senator Davis is shining a light on is a matter of choice, often especially for those that already have children. It’s one tiny detail that goes by in flash in a wide shot, but for me, it holds a lot of power and puts the fight for reproductive justice into context. 

SXSW runs from Friday 11 to Sunday 20 March, 2022.