Horrible Imaginings Film Commentary: Cidney Hue's "OVUM"

When I saw Cidney Hue’s short film “Ovum” last year, I was struck by how well it was able to blend dark, near-future science fiction with one of the most divisive social issues in our sociopolitical landscape. The issue of reproductive rights can easily set people off on either side of the argument, but “Ovum” manages to explore the consequences of this fight deftly, and purposefully integrated into the story she is telling.

ovum poster.png

It was powerful at the time that we screened it at Horrible Imaginings 2018, but now, with more restrictive legislation being put in place in several states, it feels downright prophetic. What a perfect time, then, for DUST to release it online for free.

The mission of Horrible Imaginings is to showcase storytelling that expresses the fears and anxieties of the artist, and foster conversations between that artist and the audience. “Ovum” is an exemplar of the kind of work we are looking for, and will be kicking off a new “Present Fears Blog” series. This will be the first “Horrible Imaginings Film Commentary,” where you can watch the film, and then read an interview with the director. Of course, you can scroll down and read the interview first, but I do think you should watch first.

I hope you enjoyed “Ovum!” Now, here is my chat with Cidney Hue:

  1. Before we get into a chat about your science fiction short film "Ovum," take the painful step of talking about yourself briefly. I know that you have a fascination for science, and a desire to go to space. How does this dovetail with your drive to tell stories through film?

It's pretty logical actually. Film helps me break through the boundaries of spacetime. I can travel to outer space, the future, and beyond through my stories in a way that I physically cannot in this organic body limited by the laws of physics.

2. As we like to discuss with our programming team, we are less interested in films that are trying to be scary in the traditional sense, and define "horrible imaginings" as films that are expressions of what scares the artist who created them. They are the starts to conversations that continue with audiences. Science Fiction can lend itself toward optimistic speculation or pessimistic speculation--generally speaking, what kinds of stories do you gravitate toward as an audience member? Why?

I love stories that challenge our worldview or stretch our imaginations. Right now, I'm especially drawn to biopunk and ecopunk stories that explore the possibilities and more importantly, the bioethics of the technology we'll need to survive the upcoming obstacles.

3. It is not a spoiler to say that your film "Ovum," is about the subject of reproductive rights, but I think what I appreciate most about it is feels more nuanced. Rather than being about the issue of abortion as a whole, it seems targeted at one stratagem that has been employed by anti-choice efforts: a psychological manipulation of the mother. Specifically, I am thinking of Forced Ultrasound Laws. Can you talk about those, and whether or not they were indeed the inspiration for your film?

You are completely spot on. The heartbeat bills and mandatory fetus burial laws were the catalyst for this film along with the 2016 election. Social progress is not linear and there is this pervasive idea that technology will continue to march on barring any catastrophic world event. Thus, I wondered, what would happen if our current society continued on this political decline whilst VR technology advanced? And what would this world be like for women?

4. I have heard arguments from people who want to soften the blow of our current administration's rise to power that there is no way they'd be able to overturn Roe Vs. Wade, yet the chipping away being done by a select number of states seems to nullify that argument. Did you know when you made "Ovum" that we'd be seeing quite the staggering level of anti-reproductive rights legislation being passed in those states?

I honestly could not even fathom then how bad it has gotten today. It is absolutely terrifying when reality deteriorates past the dystopian scenarios in your own film.

5. The last time we chatted, you mentioned that some audience members had interpreted your message as differently than you intended. Part of the reason is that the film avoids being overly heavy handed or didactic. Can you talk a little bit more about this phenomenon of different interpretations, and what you have learned from that as a storyteller?

I made a deliberate choice early on in the process to leave some elements open to interpretation and have characters operate in grey areas. My stance and views on the issue are so firm that I thought they would bleed naturally into the work and to push that more would be, as you said, heavy-handed or didactic. As with any work of art, the viewer interprets it through their own experiences and worldview. I don't like to generalize but I have noticed that women tend to view the film differently than men perhaps due to the ways society conditions and forces our hand on certain issues. Of course lots of men have "gotten" the message while many women have misinterpreted my intentions. It has been a really interesting case study in subtlety and messaging and I will definitely take all this into consideration on my next film.

6. Your lead Michelle Beck has to communicate some conflicted emotions simultaneously, sometimes with just her facial expressions. Can you elaborate on your casting process, what her casting was like, and how you directed her?

As many have said before me, casting is 90% of directing. It was really important that I casted all the characters, especially the lead, myself. I had an open casting call where I saw over 100 people for the lead couple. It is an inspiring and heartbreaking process because each actor brought their own interpretation and presence to the story. I could've made Ovum thousands of different ways with every person that I saw. Ultimately, Michelle won me over with her calm, deep, and alluring performance. I then had a few chemistry reads with her and several actors before I decided on Ryan Quinn. From there, I built their "family" out one by one. Michelle's such a phenomenal actor that she made my job really easy on set. We would have conversations about her character and what she is going through at the moment and right before but ultimately everything you see on the screen is Michelle, giving us her all.

7. I was already looking at some of the YouTube comments (never a good idea), and noticed that the number of reactions/opinions is already growing at a pretty strong rate. I was wondering if you planned on looking at those or responding?

I have read the comments and I am heartened by all the discussions and interesting responses. I honestly expected the worse so I'm very pleasantly surprised! I have responded to a few here or there but I prefer to let people have their say. At this point, it's not my place to step in to correct or debate anything but if I can offer some clarification on the process or choices made, then I might.

8. SPOILER QUESTION: You are the writer, as well as the director. One of the choices you made was to have the father, having left his wife, out of the picture. Was this a decision you went back and forth about, or one you knew instinctively from the get go?

I knew immediately the father had left. Ovum's VR is designed to be a picture-perfect Kodak-moment filled world and thus, the father coming back is the first sign that things are not quite right in this reality.

BIO: Cidney Hue is a sci-fi director and filmmaker in NYC with a focus on women, environmental issues, and science-driven projects. Her most recent award-winning film, Ovum, is a Black Mirror-esque short on the convergence of reproductive rights and VR technology. Her previous award-winning short, Odessa, recounts the journey of an astronaut’s last night on Earth. Her webseries for Wired & Reddit, Cyborg Nation, profiles scientists at the forefront of prosthetics, robotics, and brain-computer interfaces. Her environmental documentary, Shark Loves the Amazon, toured nationally and premiered at the World Sustainability Forum to leaders and policy makers. Cidney serves as the Director of 360 Video at NSENA and has traveled across the US to film VR for law enforcement and corrections training. She teaches filmmaking at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. Cidney founded NYC Women Filmmakers in 2015, where she leads its monthly workshop series and its thousands strong community to support female filmmakers in NYC. In her spare time, Cidney designs and creates art, graphics, sets, and futuristic visions from her imagination. She can often be found traveling the world with her camera in tow, capturing Earth’s most spectacular natural phenomenons. Her lifelong goal is to visit space by 2050 so you should email her if you have an extra seat on your rocketship.