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Late-term abortions are emotive subject of Berlin festival film

Reuters , Thursday 18 Feb 2016
24 Weeks at Berlinale
Actors Bjarne Maedel, Julia Jentsch, Emilia Pieske, director Anne Zohra Berrached and actress Johanna Gastdorf, from left, pose for the photographers during a photo call for the film '24 Weeks' at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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The director of the film "24 Wochen" (24 Weeks) about the challenges faced by a couple whose unborn child is diagnosed as having Down syndrome late in the pregnancy says she speaks from firsthand knowledge of how difficult abortions can be.

Anne Zohra Berrached, whose film is in competition for the main prize at the Berlin Film Festival, said an abortion she had several years ago has affected her ever since.

"I had an abortion myself before the third month of pregnancy and I have to deal with that up to this day," she told Reuters in an interview.

"I know how old the child would be now, the birth date it would have had and therefore it was obvious to me that I can take this issue with me for three or four years.

"That's how long the film took to be ready - three years."

Julia Jentsch plays Astrid, a stand-up comedian who is six months pregnant when she and her boyfriend Markus (Bjarne Maedel) receive the diagnosis for their as yet unborn second child.

At first they are optimistic they can cope, but when a second check-up reveals how seriously the baby will be affected, Astrid becomes more and more doubtful.

She and Markus struggle to agree over what to do and Astrid finds she has to make the choice on her own.

Berrached said she decided to portray the issue of late-term abortions when she learned that more than 90 percent of women have an abortion after the third month of pregnancy if their child has an abnormality.

"Ninety percent -- that's almost everybody. What does that mean for our society?" she said.

"Of course I knew that abnormalities in children can be diagnosed earlier and earlier. It is also interesting that the number is increasing, more and more women clearly decide against their children."

The film's title denotes the date following which the child could survive outside the mother's womb and therefore has to be killed first with an injection if the mother decides to terminate the pregnancy.

The issues raised in the film are so emotive that some of the actors had trouble putting them aside when they left the set.

"I was quite sensitive during the weeks of the shooting and ordinary things brought tears to my eyes more and more often," Maedel, who plays the boyfriend, said.

"I thought, 'What's going on?' One gets emotionally charged quite a lot".

The film had its premiere on Feb 14 and is one of 19 films in the competition for the Golden and Silver Bears. The awards will be announced on Saturday.

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