Whether you're a hardcore pro-lifer or you call yourself uncompromisingly pro-choice (or, of course, if you fall somewhere in the middle), the fantastic new documentary 12th & Delaware represents your side of the argument remarkably well. But think about that for a second: Am I actually asserting that one little 80-minute documentary is able to capture both sides of this monumentally difficult subject? And with taste, class, and artistic craftsmanship, no less? Absolutely. What co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp, also great) have built here may just be the finest documentary film ever made about the abortion issue. (I certainly haven't seen them all, but this one's pretty damn remarkable.)
With no narration, only a small handful of on-screen facts, and a complete lack of talking-head windbag interviews, 12th & Delaware simply drops us right into the middle of one particular intersection in Fort Pierce, Florida. On one side of 12th street is an abortion clinic. Directly across 12th is a pregnancy care center -- the kind that actively tries to prevent women from having abortions. With picketers on patrol virtually 24/7 and with doctors forced to leave the facility beneath coats and blankets -- let's just say 12th & Delaware is not exactly a friendly intersection.
If you like to walk into documentary films with your mind already made up, then 12th & Delaware may introduce you to a few "religious kooks" who should maybe mind their own business -- and -- a couple of godless scumbags who kill unborn babies. But if you're like most documentary fans, you'll walk into 12th & Delaware prepared for anything, in which case you'll see the good and the bad, the noble and the slimy, the simple and the complicated of this outrageously divisive issue.
Somehow, and I mean that as a large compliment, Grady and Ewing are able to get remarkably close to both parties: Their camera shows us both the good intentions and the shady practices of the pro-lifers, and then they go across the street and visit with the abortion clinic employees, who also seem like fine people, except that they deal in abortions, of course. That's the film. Pro-life, pro-choice, and several nervous women. No bias, no editorializing, no bullshit: just some damn good documentary filmmaking.
Most impressive about 12th & Delaware are the numerous frank and touching moments with the potential mothers. I can only assume that Ms. Grady and Ms. Ewing are warm and trustworthy people, because their camera is privy to some powerfully personal moments. I don't know many women who'd open up to a documentary film crew on their way to an appointment at an abortion clinic, but it's a testament to the co-directors that their film is so damn ... real. So while it's always important for a documentary to give both sides of an issue a fair shake (and this one absolutely does), it's even more important for a film to find the human equation amidst a sea of stats, facts, and figures. 12th and Delaware also does that remarkably well.