A Prayer Before Birth

Jacqui Duckworth

02/08 - 12/08/2023

A Prayer Before Birth (20 min., 1991) is startling in its dislocating but enthralling moving image sequences, chronicling Duckworth’s lived experience with multiple sclerosis (MS) to tackle entangled questions of subjectivity, disability and desire, all in the space of nineteen minutes. In A Prayer Before Birth not only does Duckworth foreground lesbian subjectivity, but she also articulates a visual language to represent the non-healthy body. Taking on strategies of Surrealism and American Avant-garde film, Duckworth uses non-normative narrative in the film to escape the limitations of “positive images” of disability and lesbian identity. This modified surrealist aesthetic reflects ‘an increasing sense of unreality’ and produces new realities to grapple with the psychological and physical traumas that MS induces.”
—Lucy Howie

A Prayer Before Birth is shown in the context of The Work We Share, a film program of ten newly digitized films from the Cinenova collection. Produced between 1972 and 1994, the films address oppositional histories and questions of difference through the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, health, and community.

The Work We Share gathers a number of films that previously existed in precarious conditions, in some cases, with negatives being lost or distribution film prints being the only copy. This program intends to acknowledge Cinenova’s interdependency: from organization to filmmakers, cultural workers, communities, and individuals. How can we acknowledge our interdependent relationships? How can we recognize our place in a network of communications, relationships, and resources, particularly as an un-funded volunteer organization? What different strains of labor does our work rely on? How do we sustain this work mutually?

Cinenova is a volunteer-run charity preserving and distributing the work of feminist film and video makers. It was founded in 1991 following the merger of two feminist film and video distributors, Circles and Cinema of Women, each formed in 1979. Cinenova currently distributes over 300 titles that include artists’ moving image, experimental film, narrative feature films, documentary, and educational videos made from the 1910s to the early 2000s.

Jacqui Duckworth was an independent filmmaker, born in Warrington in 1948. All of Jacqui’s film and photography work arose from an instinctive and original cleverness rather than a traditional academic approach and she made several searching films before the MS diagnosis in her early 30s prevented her carrying on with her plans for further film projects. These included: An Invitation to Marilyn C, Home Made Melodrama and A Prayer before Birth, the latter shown on Channel 4 as part of a series exploring the relationship between mind and body.

01Jacqui Duckworth, A Prayer Before Birth (still), 1991. Courtesy of the artist and Cinenova.



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