Written and Directed by Janet Merewether
Produced by Janet Merewether, Deborah Szapiro and Georgia Wallace-Crabbe
Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life
(produced by Go Girl Productions)
(2005, 52 mins, HD 16:9)
A tall girl with a tall story, 31 year old Jabe Babe measures six foot two inches (188cm), works as a dominatrix and has a life threatening genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome. This 52 minute hybrid documentary, merging fiction and non-fiction forms, inhabits the heightened ‘Technicolor’ world of the tall woman, the outsider, to provoke questions about society’s desire for sexual, visual, and genetic conformity.
“Blisteringly inventive and visually out-there, the latest film from acclaimed Sydney film-maker Janet Merewether is nothing if not genre-shattering….The film offers a stimulating examination of illness, the aberrant body and social conformity from a colourfully personal perspective.”
Lynden Barber – Director – Sydney Film Festival 2005
“..This is a documentary with a difference. It’s more like a drama, an art film and Jabe is performing her life. It’s one of the most visually original films in the festival.”
Julie Rigg ABC Radio National ‘The Deep End’ – Sydney Film Festival Review
“Jabe Babe is exemplary, inventive documentary filmmaking, a rich hybrid of imaginative projection and documentary reflection..It’s a great addition to the body of experimental work that Merewether has created over many years, a work to which she brings both her sense of humour and formal inventiveness…”
Keith Gallasch – ‘Factual Fantasy’ – Realtime – RT 68 Aug/Sept 05
“Images are embedded in images in a tour de force of directorial imagination..”
Frances Bonner – Brisbane International Film Festival
Inside Film – Feb 2005 – Article by Drew Turney, p.33
Realtime – RT68 Aug/Sep2005 article by Keith Gallasch
BBC News – ‘The Highs and Lows of Bing Tall’ review by Geoff Adams-Spink http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4763456.stm
SMH – The Guide – Nov 28-Nov 4 – ‘High Roller’ Review by Jacqui Taffel, p.6
Sunday Telegraph – Sunday Magazine – Nov 20, 2005 – Article by Tony Magnusson, p.17
The Age – Green Guide – Thurs Nov 24, 2005 – Review by Nicole Brady, p.14
ASDA Screen Director Magazine – Winter 2005 – Article by Tina Kaufman, p.8
Sydney City Hub – Vol 10, Issue 6, June 2005 – Article by Ewa Jaremkiewicz
Australian Art Review – March-June 2005 – Article by Ruth Hessey, p.14
WINNER – Merit Award – TIDF 2006
TAIWAN INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL
WINNER – ‘IF’ DISCOVERY AWARD FOR
BEST AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARY 2005
WINNER – AFI AWARD FOR
BEST DIRECTING IN DOCUMENTARY 2005
NOMINATED – AFI AWARD FOR
BEST AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARY 2005
NOMINATED – AFI AWARD FOR
OUTSTANDING CRAFT IN NON-FICTION –
NOMINATED – FCCA (FILM CRITICS’ CIRCLE OF
AUSTRALIA) BEST SHORT AUSTRALIAN
Cast and Crew
Jabe Babe – as herself
with Dr Lesley Ades – Geneticist – Children’s Hospital Westmead, Dr Peter Holman, Dr David McKay, Rohan Stanley, Michael Thompson, Marek Urbanski, Josh Hoare, Dhamayanthy Balaraju, Shireen Faghani, Carmen Just, Antonique Verschure, Michael Jardine, Peter Zauner, Dorian Dray, Cleon Prineas, Tony Beattie, Ava Thompson, Julia Boros, Jennifer Ezzy.
Jabe Babe passed away on 6th April 2008 at the age of 34, due to heart complications.
This film is fondly dedicated to her.
Writer/Director – Janet Merewether
Producers – Janet Merewether/Go Girl Productions, Deborah Szapiro, Georgia Wallace-Crabbe.
DOP – Jackie Farkas
Production & Costume Design – Karla Urizar
Editor – Roland Gallois
Sound Designer – Liam Egan
Composer – Felicity Fox
Mix – Phil Judd, Philmsound
Additional Video Cinematography – Janet Merewether
Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life explores the personal and medical experiences of 31 year old Jabe Babe, who measures 6ft 2 inches (188cm) and has a life threatening genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome. Jabe works and lives on the margins, defying society’s expectations of the ‘normal’ feminine body and sexuality.
Marfan Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that weakens the ‘glue’ in the body, resulting in very a distinctive physical and medical profile. It is one of the most common but least publicly known genetic disorders, affecting at least one in three thousand people, regardless of race or gender, and is usually fatal if left undiagnosed. Due to the threat of an aortic aneurism, Jabe underwent open heart surgery at the age of 17. She was fitted with an artificial valve in her aorta, which requires her to be monitored regularly, and to take blood thinning medication for the rest of her life.
Until the age of six, Jabe lived with her schizophrenic mother, Philomena. She was taken away by government welfare authorities due to her mother’s perceived incapacity to provide adequate care. Jabe spent the next ten years passing through a succession of foster families. Her contact with Philomena was restricted to sporadic supervised visits in welfare offices. During her childhood, Jabe’s treatment for Marfan Syndrome varied depending on the foster family, and her body was regarded as an interesting ‘specimen’ for medical professionals to examine.
Jabe’s childhood was marked by instability, disempowerment, neglect and abuse. Along with the physical manifestations of Marfan Syndrome, these experiences have affected Jabe’s capacity for intimate relationships, and the choices of work available to her.
Told that she would die by the age of 25, Jabe lived her life intensely, without plans. For the last seven years she led a successful career as a dominatrix, a profession that has allowed her to use her height and insights into power and powerlessness to great advantage. In later years she was less satisfied with her choice of career due to the repetition and banality of her clients’ sexual fantasies. Jabe met a new partner, and realised that her work as a dominatrix may interfere with the success of this relationship.
In a medical consultation with Marfan Syndrome specialist, Dr Lesley Adès, Jabe discovers that due to advances in medical technology there is every likelihood that she may have a normal life expectancy and that the medical information on which she has based her life is now incorrect.
At 31 years of age, with the realisation that she now has a future, Jabe takes the first steps to plan her life. Jabe has all the usual aspirations to lead a happy, healthy life, however she encounters difficulties in translating her hard earned professional skills into the language of the job marketplace. The realities of adjusting to poor pay and the daily work grind, on top of the physical restrictions of Marfan Syndrome and her unresolved relationship with her mother, bring frustration. However, Jabe’s humour and strength of character allow her to move forward.
The recent visit to Dr Lesley Adès also introduces the subject of childbirth. As a teenager, Jabe was made aware of the complexities involved in reproduction for women with Marfan Syndrome. The stress of childbirth would be a great risk to her physically, due to her weakened heart. She also faces the moral dilemma of passing on a known genetic disorder and her “freak” status to the next generation.
Dr Adès informs Jabe that with the latest techniques of pre-implantation diagnosis, and the option of surrogacy, she would be able to have a ‘normal’ child. However, Jabe rejects the idea of genetic screening, and poses the question of whether genetic perfection is a guarantee of a perfect life anyway. Are people like herself, who live in different kinds of bodies, less valid, less acceptable than others? The film validates her difference, as she rises from outsider to confident protagonist.
Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life challenges mainstream society’s obsession with genetic and social perfection, and presents the life of a young woman who has positively embraced the ‘imperfection’ of her existence.
Sydney Int’l Film Festival 2005
Melbourne Int’l Film Festival 2005
Brisbane Int’l Film Festival 2005
Munich Int’l Film Festival 2006
Sheffield Int’l Documentary Festival 2006
DOK Leipzig, Germany 2006
London Australian Film Festival
INPUT International Public Broadcasting Conference, Taiwan 2006
Taiwan Int’l Documentary Festival 2006
Australian Film Festival in Israel 2006
Berkshire Int’l Film Festival USA 2006
Boston Underground Film Festival 2006