Downtown Toronto-based filmmaker Noemi Weis has thrown down the gauntlet in the battle of the breast.
Her film Milk, which will be screened at the upcoming Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, takes an intimate, cross-cultural look at childbirth and infant nutrition, looking at the commercial, societal and other issues that inform motherhood.
Shedding a light on early child care and feeding in 11 countries, Milk showcases the myriad difficult decisions mothers face when bringing a new life into the world.
“Amazingly, there’s not much difference between the different countries,” Weis said. “One of the things that really struck me when doing my research, though, was witnessing the influence of formula and how much that’s being pushed on some mothers, especially in emergency situations.”
Weis aimed to show a balanced view when it comes to infant nutrition, showing mothers who breastfeed and mothers who have decided that breastfeeding is not right for their children or their lifestyle.
“What’s important is to support the mother in whatever her choice is, because no matter what she chooses, it’s more of a challenge when she’s not supported,” the filmmaker said. “If a woman decides (using formula) is better for her lifestyle and she’s properly informed, then that’s her choice.”
Weis was surprised to find so much discourse – and so many conflicting and at times contentious viewpoints – surrounding breastfeeding. For Milk, she spoke with mothers, lactation consultants and medical experts to get as balanced a view as possible.
She said that type of approach was necessary for such a universal and crucial subject.
“It’s really something that touches all of us – we’re all parents or we know someone who is,” she said. “Because of that, people are very opinionated when it comes to the subject, and sometimes the advice a mother can get is overwhelming.”
To ensure the best possible care for infants and mothers, Weis feels more education is needed, particularly in the medical profession. While doctors may be well-suited to make recommendations when it comes to childbirth, they are not often equally equipped to coach mothers on infant nutrition.
“I definitely think a lot more attention has to be paid by schools of medicine when it comes to nutrition,” she said. “It needs to be more of a priority, because every baby should have the right to the best care and nutrition.”
Information surrounding infant nutrition should be shared with mothers and to those around her to ensure they can provide the right support.
Surprisingly, Weis found a larger cultural difference when it comes to actual childbirth than when it comes to nutrition. In some places, such as Sao Paolo, Brazil, Cesarean sections are the norm.
“Sometimes, that’s a decision that a woman’s made on her own and sometimes it’s implanted in the culture,” she said. “It can certainly be easier for doctors, who can just schedule a Cesarean instead of having a mother go into labour at 12 o’clock at night and then having to spend maybe the next 20 hours with her.”
Milk is the latest in a series of documentaries Weis has filmed, all of which tackle social issues. Through her production company, Filmblanc, she has touched on subjects ranging from child trafficking to domestic violence to the community-healing power of music.
Milk will screen at the Hot Docs Festival at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 27 and again at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29.
For tickets or to see more of what’s on tap at Hot Docs 2015, visit www.hotdocs.ca.