Ashley Sabin produces, directs, photographs and edits critically-acclaimed cinematic documentaries that have screened internationally in festivals and on television worldwide at Sundance, Toronto, Cinema du Reel, Rotterdam, Visions du Reel, RIDM, MoMA, and Viennale Film Festivals and on PBS, POV, BBC, CBC, DR, ARTE, and NHK. Her new film Do Donkeys Act? has its UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on 9 June 2017.
I am daydreaming for a better future whereby festivals provide childcare.
My partner and I have worked together since 2005. We are workaholics. I never ruffle my feathers but 15 films in 12 years is not bad. We thrive off of producing, directing, shooting, editing (and for a short time distributing) documentaries. We are also romantic partners which made it easier to work when we wanted and also travel together. We had loose roots. We’d move every two-four years, making the “where are you from?” question quite difficult to answer. My response is typically, “you mean where was I born? Or where do I live?” We’d move to the locations we were filming and immerse ourselves into the culture, the smells, the sounds, and the soul of the place. This all informed our documentaries. The experience was thrilling albeit sometimes dangerous and unpredictable.
These experiences led me to my current state, which is the exact opposite. I have thicker roots. My days look fairly similar: wake up, feed two children, bring 3 year old daughter to pre-school, come home do laundry, breastfeed and put 7 month old to bed, do laundry and work while said 7 month old is sleeping, baby wakes up go outside, pick up daughter from pre-school, do activity with both kids, prepare dinner, eat, bath, put kids to bed, and maybe do a little work before collapsing in bed. Each of these tasks (aside from breastfeeding) is interchangeable between my partner and myself. I fought with myself having such a rigid schedule in the beginning but quickly realised a schedule is important for us and for the kids.
It took four years to finish our current documentary Do Donkeys Act?. I was pregnant and we were filming donkeys in the southwest corner of England, Cork, Ireland, and Guelph, Canada. The experience was magical. Gazing into the empathic eyes of a donkey while pregnant was the calming meditation I needed. The editing… took a while. So long we had two children before we were ready to release it into the world. We did make some shorts in between to stay limber in our craft. Shorts allowed us to feel like we still had a craft.
Do Donkeys Act? recently premiered at CPH:Dox. I hear it went wonderfully. My partner went to represent our film while I stayed at home with the two children. Writing this statement may sound like I am resentful. No, I’m not. We could have both gone, brought the children, maybe even shelled out the extra cash for a nanny, and the extra plane ticket for our toddler. But, recently we returned from Rotterdam where we premiered the companion piece titled Sanctuary. We brought the family circus. It was no Jackson Five experience. I ended up getting food poisoning, my milk supply quickly began depleting, and we did not watch one movie.
One day I sat with the sleeping baby and energized toddler in the lobby of the headquarters. I felt the frenetic buzz of the festival and though I was a part of the festival I felt separate from it. Don’t get me wrong, Rotterdam IFF is a magical place. The audiences were great and the industry is strong. So all the components were there. Except one thing was missing: the childcare. There was no space for my energizer bunny toddler to feel engaged. This simple fact nagged at me the entire time. I left the festival with a lot of food for thought.
The experience brought me to my current headspace. Once home my initial thought was drastic, why would I continue to make films if I don’t feel engaged at the festivals? That is the whole point right? Premiering a film and connecting with an audience, reading reviews, meeting filmmakers, watching films, and feeling inspired to make more work. Or at least that used to be the point. Now that is near impossible when bringing two children to a fest and spending my energy worrying about their happiness, safety and tranquillity. I just don’t have the time while at the fest for my own craft.
The experience of being a mother is where my magical experience of travelling has been transferred. I find myself brought on incredible daily journeys with both kids. So my tone is not hostile. It is a reality check. With this reality I made the responsible decision of not attending CPH:Dox. It’s not realistic to bring both children if there is no childcare. Yes, we could bring a nanny, yes we could try and find childcare while there but with the little money we have it goes to living, the children, and/or our films.
Thus I exist in a new reality. But this does not mean I’ve given up the magic of my craft. It just means that I am daydreaming for a better future whereby festivals provide childcare. To expand on my dreams, perhaps there are film-related children’s activities, a database of attendees where film parents and children can connect, or movies for children. I dream on and on. For now these are just dreams but maybe they will become a reality and I can foster the magic of my craft alongside the magic of motherhood.