Little Man

Groundbreaking gay filmmaker Nicole Conn (CLAIRE OF THE MOON) documents her own disturbingly fierce desire to keep her premature, severely underweight infant son alive, in this deeply personal film that often feels more like an artfully produced home video than a documentary. Not long after the birth of their daughter, Gabrielle, Conn and her partner, Gwen...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Groundbreaking gay filmmaker Nicole Conn (CLAIRE OF THE MOON) documents her own disturbingly fierce desire to keep her premature, severely underweight infant son alive, in this deeply personal film that often feels more like an artfully produced home video than a documentary. Not long after the birth of their daughter, Gabrielle, Conn and her partner, Gwen Baba, who carried the artificially inseminated child to term, wanted a second child. This time, however, the California couple decided to use a surrogate, and while their decision made sense at the time — Conn was unable to carry a child and Baba was now too old — their choice in candidates couldn't have been worse. Not only did the overweight, 39-year-old "Mary" suffer from hypertension and a history of preeclampsia, but she only had one kidney, something even the most cursory medical exam should have picked up. The first sign of trouble came during an early sonogram, when it was clear that the fetus wasn't developing at a normal rate. Faced with the very real possibility that the child could be born with anything ranging from spinal dysplasia and dwarfism to meningitis, Conn and Baba were strongly advised to terminate the pregnancy. Baba realized that choosing not to abort would mean choosing "chaos, pain and suffering" and would radically change her life forever. But Conn, already able to sense her unborn son's soul deep within Mary's womb, was sure she was up for what she calls the "perpetual challenge" of raising a disabled child. In Mary's 25th week, disaster strikes: With preeclampsia sending her blood pressure soaring to near-fatal levels, Mary's doctor orders an emergency Caesarian and tiny Nicholas James is born, 100 days early and weighing 1 pound. Rushed into the neonatal intensive care unit, Nicholas is tethered to tubes, wires and an air vent that enables him to breath, and he manages to outlive even the most optimistic prognoses. Keeping him alive over the coming months, however, proves a nightmare, and as Conn's home life begins unravelling, she finds herself increasingly alone. Like her own admitted inability to see Nicholas' situation through anything other than a "mother's eyes," Conn is also unable to view her film objectively, even as it grows overlong and ungainly. Moreover, she's never able to reconcile her need to show the world exactly what it really means in practical terms to keep a profoundly disabled infant alive through extraordinary means — an experience the phrase "perpetual challenge" doesn't even begin to cover — with her own unexplored need to keep Nicholas breathing. As a consequence, her film raises a number of awful questions: What qualifies as a "quality" life? How much is a child's life really worth? No mother should have to answer.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Groundbreaking gay filmmaker Nicole Conn (CLAIRE OF THE MOON) documents her own disturbingly fierce desire to keep her premature, severely underweight infant son alive, in this deeply personal film that often feels more like an artfully produced home video… (more)

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