Eliza Hittman talks ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’

Sidney Flanigan appears in Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Sidney Flanigan appears in Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Eliza Hittman spoke with FF2 Media in a phone interview about her new film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, opening in theaters this weekend.

Following festival screenings at both Sundance and Berlin, Focus Features opens the Never Rarely Sometimes Always in select theaters starting on March 12, 2020. Hittman wrote and directed the film, which stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always held its world premiere during this year’s Sundance Film Festival and subsequently played in Berlin. What has the audience reception been following these screenings?

Eliza Hittman: Sundance is a little bit of a blur for me. I was so nervous. It was the first kind of public screening of the film. I tend not to do test screenings of movies because I really am not interested in cutting a movie to the audience—so they’re really exciting in that way. Sundance was really exciting in that way but also terribly nerve wracking. I think it went well. I think reception was warm. I think Sundance is very industry heavy audience and not a general audience so it isn’t necessarily a reflection of the way that the movie plays in the world. I think Berlin was pretty amazing. You have a film play to an international audience and it was very celebrated in a way that was special to me.

As a filmmaker, what is so special about premiering a film on the mountain?

Eliza Hittman: I think it’s something about being the first festival after the new year that makes it exciting. I think it is important that it attracts so much of the industry. It can create a lot of opportunity. I think that you’re surrounded by good company and films that are really a reflection of the moment. It’s exciting to see the films of the new year.

How did you first get the idea for the film?

Eliza Hittman: I first had the idea in 2012. I was reading about the death of a woman in Ireland who passed away after being denied a life-threatening abortion. I started reading about the journey that a lot of women would take from Ireland to London to get abortions and back. There was just something very compelling to me about the concept of that journey—how harrowing it must be. It was really the inspiration for the film, just thinking about the journey that women are forced to suffer through—any person with a uterus—to access reproductive rights.

Eliza Hittman, director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
Eliza Hittman, director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Harrison Sheehan.

How much research went into writing the treatment?

Eliza Hittman: A lot of research. That was my favorite part. I really went out did a ton of field work. I went to pregnancy crisis centers and took pregnancy tests. I hopped on a Greyhound bus in rural Pennsylvania and took that bus all the way to New York City. I met with social workers, abortion doctors, and clinicians in New York, Planned Parenthood, and branched out into other private clinics. I really just tried to hear as many perspectives as possible about the story that I’m trying to tell.

Planned Parenthood plays a big role in the film. Can you talk about working with them as far as telling an authentic story?

Eliza Hittman: I went to them very early on in the development of the film and connected with a woman named Caren Spruch who is the director of arts engagement. She really opened the doors to Planned Parenthood for me. They read drafts, gave me access to people to interview, and allowed us to shoot in their facility. It was a balance, I think, because obviously, I’m not a documentary filmmaker. The film is ultimately a character study. I really tried to absorb as much perspective and information as I could but then sort of shape it into a unique fictional story.

Can you talk about working with Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder?

Eliza Hittman: I really didn’t have that much rehearsal time. I felt my priority in the process was getting them to know each other as young women, not characters. We never went deep into their character histories. I had about a day to work with them and I tried certain exercises to try and bond them to each other. I really believe that the bond you see on screen is bond between these two incredible young women.

What was the most challenging part of the production?

Eliza Hittman: It was all challenging and making a movie is a massive, massive undertaking. It’s like building a city for 27 days. One of the harder things to shoot was Port Authority because we’re only allowed to shoot from 12 AM to 4 AM. Night shooting is very taxing on your crew especially when it’s multiple nights in a row. It was place in which we couldn’t really shoot the city as it exists. We had to use a lot of background and I was really nervous that it would feel credible.

The topic of abortion is one of topics that can draw so much controversy. Are you afraid of potential calls to boycott the film?

Eliza Hittman: No, I’m not scared of controversy. I mean, I made a small art house independent film and it would be amazing if it reached a wider audience that took issue with it. I think that my hope is that a lot of young, people see the film. My hope is also that a lot of conservative white men see the film of a certain older age group.

What do you hope people take away from viewing the film?

Eliza Hittman: I hope people have a deeper understanding that of the barriers that exist for people with a uterus who are trying to access reproductive care and the impact that it has on their everyday lives.

Read the FF2 Media’s review of Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

© Danielle Solzman (3/12/20) FF2 Media

Photo credits: Focus Features

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Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and an aspiring filmmaker if she can ever put enough time aside to work on her feature-length trans-led political comedy script. When not in Chicago, she attends various film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto. She graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BA in Public Relations while earning a Masters in Media Communications from Webster University after writing a thesis paper on comic books against the backdrop of the American political culture.
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