My brilliant friend Diane sent me an email a few weeks ago saying that I had to see her friend Nina Davenport’s new documentary, First Comes Love. I do everything Diane says because, as I said, she’s brilliant. So emails were sent, introductions were made, and a week later I was holding a copy of the film in my hands.
I love this documentary. First Comes Love chronicles Davenport’s journey into motherhood, from deciding to become a single mother, to choosing the sperm donor (a close friend), to telling her family about her decision, to the birth of her son Jasper. Davenport captures that yearning desire for motherhood that so many women experience. But this movie is about more that just fulfilling the dream of motherhood. It’s about navigating family relationships, it’s about opening oneself up to the possibility of love, and it’s about understanding and forgiveness.
First Comes Love opens at the IFC Center in New York tomorrow and premiers on HBO on July 29th. If you have HBO, please tune in at 9 pm EST. You can also help Nina get the film into theaters by supporting her Kickstarter campaign.
I’m pleased to have Nina here at Motherhood & Words for an interview. Welcome, Nina!!
KH: The footage from the film covers a number of years. How does the older footage function and at what point did you know you were making a film?
ND: The main story line of First Comes Love is my decision to have a baby on my own, and I started filming as soon as I realized I was serious about moving forward with that option. So, I knew from the beginning I had a film. With documentaries, however, you’re dealing with real life, so you never know where the story is going to lead you. To me, that’s what so exciting about both making them and watching them. The archival footage in First Comes Love spans 80 years in the life of a family—going back to my grandfather’s 8mm home movies from the 1930s. And there are super 8 movies my father shot of our family in the 60s and 70s and video I shot of our family going back to the early 90s. All of that archival footage functions in the film as back story but also as places for my voiceover reflections.
KH: I love the way you don’t know where the story will lead you when you’re making a documentary. That’s very similar to writing a memoir—even though you have the makings of the story in front of you, or in your head rather, you don’t know where putting it down on the page will take you. You have to remain open to discovery.
Can you talk a little about the process of making the movie?
ND: It took four years to make this film, which in documentary terms, is quite normal. It’s like dog years—you have to think in a different time frame altogether. Making a documentary is one of the most laborious, time-consuming, difficult, intense processes you can undergo as an artist.
You have to let the story unfold—you can’t rush real life. You have to struggle for funding. And editing takes forever because you’re crafting a story from the footage itself—it’s almost the opposite of editing a fiction film, where you’re following a script.
KH: As a memoirist I think a lot about how my writing might affect the people in my life (and books). Because you use your own life as material, this is something that you have to consider, as well. How did you deal with this? Did your friends/family get to see the film before it was finished? Did they have any input?
ND: This isn’t as much of an issue for me as one might expect, perhaps because my films tend to be very loving. I’m not that interested in passing judgment on people—I’d much rather let them be themselves on camera. It’s too easy to poke fun of people in a documentary anyway. However, some of my friends don’t let me film because they value privacy more than I do (clearly!). And, yes, some friends did make me get “approval” about the final product, but no one had any issues once they saw it.
KH: What have the reactions of family and friends been to the film?
ND: My friends love the film. The main question people ask is what does my father think of the film—since our sometimes difficult relationship is a big focus of it—but in fact, he hasn’t seen it yet. He’ll be watching it with friends on HBO when it premieres on July 29.
It’s mostly very positive to make art out of your own life—I think it’s a very moving experience to see yourself transformed into a character on screen that people relate to. And wonderful to have a record of your life to return to—especially when it comes to Jasper, who will be able to see everything that led to his birth—and even the birth itself. Can you imagine how great that would be?
KH: How has motherhood affected your work, both in terms of process and content?
ND: I feel like I found a great solution to the whole work/life balance that people talk about these days—I just combined them into one by making a film about having a baby! In retrospect, it seems like a rather brilliant strategy. The challenge will be the next film—how do I travel as a single mom? Will I have the space in my brain to make a film while also keeping this little creature’s life on track? But I do believe it can be done—because the fact of the matter is, most of the world has been raised by single moms, for better or worse. Just because you have a husband does not mean he’s helping raise the kids. I also believe that women should continue to pursue their dreams even after having children—I think it’s better for everyone that way.
KH: For me, First Comes Love is as much about your relationships with you mom and dad as it is about becoming a parent yourself. Can you talk a little about the ways that motherhood has affected how you think of your other relationships?
ND: To me, the film is really about how becoming a parent makes you come to terms with our own parents and your own childhood. Having a baby in a way brought my deceased mother back to life for me, and it allowed me to gain compassion for my father. I am still getting to know them both more deeply, as Jasper grows up and I mature as a parent.
A friend recently wrote me, “Your film is a beautiful ode to love, women, and motherhood.” That is the best summary of the film I’ve heard. The film is a love letter to my mother, to my best friend Amy, and to my baby Jasper.
KH: Amen. Thanks for taking the time to e-mail with me, Nina!
Friends, check out First Comes Love!