‘No One Asked You’ mixes abortion and comedy

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ruth Leitman calls her latest film “The Lovely Beast.”
“It was a beast and a bear to make,” she reflected.
Her film, “No One Asked You,” is a documentary about legendary Minnesota comedian and activist Lizz Winstead and the path she has taken for the past several years focusing on abortion rights. Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, leads her group Abortion Access Front (AAF) across the country to help women and clinics in their attempts to access and provide abortion services. The film will show at the Minneapolis Saint Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF) at The Main Cinema, 115 SE Main in Minneapolis.
“Abortion access is something I have always been very concerned about,” said Leitman. “It was a leading factor in my being able to have a career as a photographer and filmmaker. I had an abortion as a teenager, and it  helped me escape the scary relationship I was in.”
Leitman met Winstead in 2012 when she was on a tour with her book, “Lizz Free or Die.”
“I met her at a grassroots organizing conference,” Leitman said. “I have always cared about social justice documentary filmmaking. I had just made a film on immigration that was a torn in the Department of Homeland Security’s side. Many of us knew that things were bad and were going to get worse. We just didn’t know what shape things would take.”
Right after meeting her, Leitman reached out to Winstead’s communications director and said she would really like to make a film about Winstead. She was planning her Vagical Mystery Tour at that time, going across the southern and Midwestern states to help bring comfort and support and build community. Donald Trump had been elected president. “We wondered how we were going to get through the next four years with someone so unapologetically anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-migrant,” Leitman said.
She didn’t know how she, personally, was going to get through those next four years. “I needed a lifeline,” Leitman said.  “Many of us wondered how women’s health care could be looked at as political. That’s criminal!”
Leitman felt the issue of access to abortion needed to be looked at with some humor, and she started filming Winstead on her tours across the country. She filmed for six and a half years.
She said the film was grossly underfunded for a myriad of reasons. “We went out and tried to pitch it as a series, but some screeners said they were not doing anything political at this time.”
Leitman said that in the film world, gatekeepers often say they want to get involved from the very beginning. “But the very beginning was an emergency,” she noted. “It’s not often that films are emergencies, but we felt this was. We needed to get on the road, so we did a lot of crowd funding at the very beginning. And some documentary funders did not understand abortion and comedy.”
Leitman said the funders did need to understand. “How did ‘The Daily Show’ and Stephen Colbert become so popular?” she asked. “There was a lot of waiting, and when you have an urgent story to tell you can’t wait.”
Leitman said that no matter what happens, the plan is to take the film to battleground states or where abortion already is illegal or states where valid initiatives are happening. She said the states are trying to enshrine a policy in the constitution or make sure it is not in the constitution or make sure there is never a constitutional amendment. “They are hoping to confuse the voters about these things,” she added.
Leitman said people never thought that Roe would go away or that anything would happen to birth control. “Now we are seeing these things change one by one,” she said. They are going to Mississippi for the first screening of the film since it was finished. The Dobbs case that overturned Roe was from Mississippi. They will bring Pink House Defenders, volunteers who will escort patients to and from the clinic in Mississippi. “The team will be there, and there will be hijinks and shenanigans,” Leitman said.
“The film coming out now is so important,” Leitman stated. “We’re able to help Lizz and the AAF build the movement and galvanize audiences.”
Leitman said a lot of important films are coming out now about the dismantling of democracy. “I wanted this film to be informative and educational as well as entertaining,”
She said after viewing the film, people could think of ways to be activists. “They could bring water to a clinic every Saturday or have a house party and write postcards to clinics,” she noted.
“With every document I have made, the toughest part for me is that you witness injustices that you are there filming. You are not part of the story. The story is told through you,” Leitman explained. “We ran into a lot of hatred along the way with both politicians and anti-choice extremists. You are a silent witness and fighting back with your camera.”
Leitman said part of her connection with Winstead is that both of them as teens were running around trying to find someone to help when they were pregnant. “But we did have privilege and the resources to somehow figure out how to get an abortion,” she remarked. “So may women don’t know about the resources available to them.”
The relationship between filmmaker and subject is such an interesting one, according to Leitman. Many of Leitman’s films through her production company, Ruthless Films, are about women who have faced adversity but come through it as survivors.
“I make films about people I would love to know and be friends with,” she said. “But there is also an important ethical line.
“Lizz grew my storytelling abilities in a lot of ways. She is the funniest and smartest person in the room-determined and singularly focused to make sure she leaves a legacy that change has been made. She is also really beautiful and joyous, complex and challenging. I so admire her work.”


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