Kelly Duane De La Vega Talks Robert Altman-Inspired ‘In the Bones’

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Kelly Duane de la Vega is putting the finishing touches to her documentary “In the Bones” (previously known as “Mississippi Red”), set to premiere in January. The film is set in Mississippi during a legislative session when equal pay for equal work and abortion rights are being decided, and zooms in on the lives of 12 protagonists – including a prominent Republican politician teaming up with a Democrat activist to create bipartisan pressure. The project was presented this week as part of Ji.hlava New Visions Forum: U.S. Docs, during the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

“It’s a bit Robert Altman-inspired,” Kelly Duane de la Vega tells Variety. “We wanted to find people who embodied some of the struggles that we thought were important in terms of women’s rights.” 

That included a family finally addressing its legacy of domestic violence and attempting to break the cycle, people on different sides of the political aisle, or those affected by two issues that were unfolding in front of her eyes as the filming went on: the fight for equal pay and the abortion ban. 

“It was in Mississippi when they passed the most restrictive abortion ban law. They are in competition with Texas now and it could change the course of reproductive rights,” she says. The law in question could eventually overthrow Roe vs. Wade, suggests the helmer, a legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional.

The film, produced by Jessica Anthony for Three Frames (“She is my sister in the fight,” says the director), also saw her enlist the help of Zandashé Brown, credited as co-director.  

“Zandashé has made some beautiful work; she works at the New Orleans Film Society and we initially brought her in as a field producer. Then she got more involved and having her lens on the work was invaluable. We wanted to build a team on the ground that either has lived in Mississippi or still does. We talked about what it meant to tell these stories and how to create a narrative that goes beyond what the mainstream media says about that region.”

Duane de la Vega, also behind “ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke,” nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and “Better This World,” wanted to make a film one could feel “on a visceral level,” she says.

“I want the viewer to work a little. You don’t have some expert explaining the landscape. You have to ‘fall’ into the film, rather than just process information. Our intention was to look at what it means to navigate the patriarchy in the heart of the United States, where women have the fewest rights and protections. The day-to-day experience of living in a political structure that’s not designed for you to be an equal,” she adds, mentioning that while the film moves between race and class, it also looks at patriarchy through religion. 

Calling it the most difficult edit of her entire career, Duane de la Vega has already assembled a rough cut of the film.

“I am proud of where we ended up. I think we found the right balance and we found the poetry of the film.”

While her parents lived in Jackson before she was born, she still discovered a lot about the region and its people during the whole process.

“I had a ‘sense’ of this place before, but in terms of individual stories, I’ve learnt a lot. My protagonists are always my educators. There is depth to all of them and witnessing how they navigate their structural barriers has been both painful and inspirational,” she says, also referring to the title of the upcoming film. 

“It comes from our history and our legacy, our inherited traumas. It’s ‘in the bones’ of who we are.” 

“In the Bones”
Credit: Clare Major