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Comfort Film and [MIA] Moving Image Art presents: a film by Irene Lusztig The Motherhood Archives (2013)

  • Comfort Station 2579 N Milwaukee Ave Chicago, IL, 60647 United States (map)

Comfort Film and [MIA] Moving Image Art presents: a film by Irene Lusztig
The Motherhood Archives (2013)

Archival montage, science fiction, and an homage to 70s feminist filmmaking are woven together to form this haunting and lyrical essay film excavating hidden histories of childbirth in the twentieth century. Assembling an extraordinary archive of over 100 educational, industrial, and medical training films (including newly rediscovered Soviet and French childbirth films) THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES(2013, 91 min.) inventively 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 MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES charts a fascinating course through the cultural history of pain, the history of obstetric anesthesia, and the little-known international history of the natural childbirth and Lamaze movements. Revealing a world of intensive training, rehearsal, and performative preparation for the unknown that is ultimately incommensurate with experience, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES is a meditation on the maternal body as a site of institutional control, ideological surveillance, medical knowledge, and nationalist state intervention. Finally, the film works as a feminist recuperation of obsolete maternal histories, as a visual analysis of the persistent disciplining of the pregnant / laboring body, and as a new, contemporary counter-archive of women’s experiential narratives.


IRENE LUSZTIG is a filmmaker, media archeologist, and amateur seamstress. Her film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings in order to reframe, recuperate, or reanimate forgotten and neglected histories. Using hybrid formal strategies and combining visual textures (including digital video, Super 8 and 16mm film, and found / archival materials) her work investigates the production of personal, collective, and national memories. 

Born in England to Romanian parents, Irene grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. She received her BA in filmmaking and Chinese studies from Harvard and completed her MFA in film and video at Bard College. Her debut feature film, Reconstruction (2001) was recognized with a Boston Society of Film Critics Discovery award and won best documentary at the New England Film Festival. Her work has been screened around the world, including at MoMA, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, IDFA Amsterdam, and on television in the US, Europe, and Taiwan. She has received grants from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Massachusetts Cultural Council, LEF Foundation, and New York State Council for the Arts and has been awarded fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Harvard's Film Study Center. She is the recent recipient of a 2014 Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award. She teaches filmmaking at UC Santa Cruz where she is Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media; she lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


"THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES is a provocative exploration of societal ideals around successful childbearing and how women have been historically manipulated to accept that there is only ever one correct way to have a baby. The visually stunning footage curated from a century's worth of birthing movements will inspire impassioned discussion and debates about the changing political and social economy of motherhood. An excellent teaching tool."
Kristen Ghodsee, Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, Bowdoin College

"A must-see film for feminists teaching or thinking about motherhood today, as well as its representational legacy, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES makes critical inroads into subjects that feminism (or women) have always, somehow looked past..."
Alexandra Juhasz, Professor of Media Studies, Pitzer College

"Through the masterful integration of archival footage and historical interpretation, Lusztig’s film catalogs the changing attitudes towards pregnancy, labor, and delivery. "THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES emphasizes the paradox and tensions between the natural and pathological interpretations of birth. This film is perfect for students taking Women’s History or History of Medicine; actually, anyone planning a pregnancy should see this movie."
Elizabeth Reis, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Oregon

"Irene Lusztig's fearless and riveting investigation into motherhood and the unfree maternal body shows how a skilled filmmaker can wring both eloquence and entertainment from archival material. Daylighting long-ignored ephemera, building a fascinating essay that far exceeds the sum of its components, she exposes how lies flourish as long as histories are hidden."
Rick Prelinger, archivist and founder, Prelinger Archives & Prelinger Library


MIA [Moving Image Art] series screens and exhibits the work of artists using the moving image. Screenings currently take place quarterly at Comfort Station Logan Square in Chicago, IL and at the Armory in Pasadena, CA. Curated by video artist Alanna Simone.

Media: Digital Projection.
Runtime: 91 minutes

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