In 2013, hundreds of women from around the Lone Star State sent their stories to Texas State Senator Wendy Davis so she could filibuster against a bill calling for more restrictive abortion regulations. As the Texas Capitol filled, Davis read the emotional testimonies into the official record, standing for 13-hours on the floor of the Texas Senate.
And though supporters filled the senate gallery shouting until midnight to run out the senate session, the bill ultimately passed.
Yet, with Davis’ political feat live-streamed around the world, and amplified on social media, her stand generated enormous resonance.
That resonance is captured in the documentary “Shouting Down Midnight” which premieres March 12 at SXSW.
Produced and directed by Austin filmmaker Gretchen Stoeltje, the 97-minute film follows women whose letters Davis read during the filibuster, and women who found inspiration in Davis’ stand.
Stoeltje said that when she was first conceiving the documentary, she imagined it might be a gloomy accounting of how access to reproductive healthcare has been severely restricted, and continues to be diminished since Davis’s 13-hour stand.
“But then I ended up finding these women who inspired me because they were committed to make a change on behalf of other women,” says Stoeltje. “I’m still inspired by their confidence, drive and clarity.”
Stoeltje unravels the narrative elliptically, dipping in to the course of the filibuster, then looping out to see how it became a galvanizing moment for some.
Take Sadie Hernandez. After she received some advocacy emails from Planned Parenthood that day in June 2013, Hernandez headed to the Texas Capitol. Witnessing the filibuster made her commit to a life activism and today is a reproductive and immigrant justice organizer. Hernandez garnered national attention in 2015 when she stood outside the Governor’s Mansion every day for more than month to protest the Texas Legislature’s move to cut Planned Parenthood out of the state’s cancer screening program.
And there’s Krithika Shamanna, who as a Austin high school student began advocating for menstrual equity, asking for free period products to be available in school restrooms. Later, she founded the Rice University chapter of Deeds Not Words, the organization Davis launched post-filibuster which trains young women in civic engagement and advocacy skills.
Davis remains a central character of the film, and Stoeltje does an artful job of tracing out just enough of Davis’ own remarkable biography.
Stoeltje has made several short films centered on women’s experiences. In 1991, she traveled to Sweetwater, Texas to train a lens on the Snake Charmer Queen Pageant for “Venom in a Jar, A Kiss from the Queen.” And “A.R.M. Around Moscow,” co-produced with Jeanne C. Finley, followed a U.S.-based matchmaking service that in the early post-Soviet years, brought American men together with Russian women. The one-hour documentary was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial exhibition.
From the beginning Stoeltje self-funded “Shouting Down Midnight,” filming when she could afford to hire crew, and using vacation days from her ‘day career’ as a transportation policy researcher. It wasn’t until last year when several producers came on board — among them, Richard Linklater, Michael Esposito and Kristi Frasier — that Stoeltje was able to push the production over the finish line.
Distribution plans after its SXSW premiere have yet to be finalized though it’s likely the film will make the indie festival circuit. And Stoeltje is hopeful the film will be used as a tool of advocacy.
“(Davis’s filibuster) didn’t produce a victory for reproductive rights,” says Stoeltje. “No one had an official victory. But there’s so much more that was won. So many women used their voices that night. Women were activated and they went on to use their voices on behalf of other women.”
“Shouting Down Midnight” screens in-person at 11:30 a.m. March 12 at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center, and at 6 p.m. March 17 at AFS Cinema. It screens online at 9 a.m. March 13. See schedule.sxsw.com/2022/films/2054179