Few of us will ever have to engage the term “reproductive rights” quite as intensely as filmmaker Nicole Conn, whose incendiary Little Man chronicles the troubled gestation and premature birth of her son, Nicholas, and his subsequent struggle to live. That easy synopsis hardly does the story justice, both in terms of the baby’s unfathomable postpartum ordeal and Conn’s fearsome dedication to his survival, and her documentary is guaranteed to polarize audiences. Is her insistence on taking every measure possible to save little Nicholas heroic or monumentally self-serving? Was her and partner Gwen Baba’s decision to have a surrogate (who turned out to be ill) carry their child an instance of ghastly bourgeois materialism or a genuine expression of love? And is her film, which runs the gamut from gauzy love story to hospital horror flick to weepy confessional, revelatory or exploitatively solipsistic? It’s to Conn’s credit that she allows such questions to drive Little Man, and her perseverance makes our judgment moot anyway; what lingers are the images of Nicholas’s manhandling by a host of dispassionate medicos and a sense that “quality of life” is a much shakier concept than we could’ve imagined.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 22, 2005