This spring, the Reserve Film and Video Collection is preserving Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill’s 1973 documentary Joyce at 34. One can question whether or not discourses on family planning, reproductive politics and gender roles have advanced since the film’s release; what is certain is that Joyce at 34 remains potent and relevant as a document of the conflict endured by working mothers.
The film’s documentation of being new to parenting is candid. It begins with the filmmaker talking of her debilitation as a pregnant woman. The pregnancy feels endless. She wants to return to work. After giving birth, Joyce attempts to regain her position as a working filmmaker while also caring for her new baby. The changes to both her and her husband’s professional lives are remarkable and frustrating. The new parents love the baby, Sarah, but must recognize the limitations she puts on their careers. Joyce tries to edit her latest project with the baby on her lap, Sarah grasping for the film stock; her husband, Tom Cole, a writer, attempts a meeting with his editor during the baby’s feeding time.
One of the most significant scenes is when Joyce and Sarah visit Joyce’s parents, during which the filmmakers record a gathering of Joyce’s mother and her mother’s peers to discuss the sacrifices they made for their children. Instead of choosing professions that reflected their dreams and talents, many chose to work as teachers or homemakers - jobs linked to their ability to care for their families. They openly discuss the elements of motherhood that often remain unspoken, a scarlet letter of many career women: guilt, shame and wanting something more for oneself.
What makes this film so remarkable and a perfect candidate for preservation is its persistent timeliness and that it makes public the private frustrations a woman has when she encounters the conflicting nature of two great and powerful loves – the love for herself and the love for her offspring. That revelation is at the heart of the film. Shot on 16mm, Joyce at 34 didn’t need corporate or studio funding to be realized. The equipment was portable, the film stock relatively inexpensive. By no means an amateur project, the film represents a newfound means of expression for a gender whose roles had been increasingly marginalized since the post-war years. Joyce and Claudia could make the film they wanted in the manner in which they wanted and whether the final product is part of the cinema verité movement or the Women’s Movement is secondary to the fact that it documents exactly what the title suggests: Joyce at 34.
The preservation of this exemplary work is being conducted with the assistance of Ms. Chopra who provided the master negatives upon which the labwork is being done. Generous funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation will allow for the creation of new negatives and new 16mm prints, one of which will be available for on-site screening in the Film Study Room at the Library for the Performing Arts.