The Motherhood Archives

A film by Irene Lusztig

US | 2013 | 91 minutes | Color/BW | DVD | English/French | English subtitles | Order No. 141124


Archival montage, science fiction and an homage to 1970s feminist filmmaking are woven together to form this haunting and lyrical essay film excavating hidden histories of childbirth in the twentieth century. After several years of buying films online and working in historical archives, award-winning filmmaker Irene Lusztig amassed an unusual and fascinating collection of found footage aimed at teaching women how to be pregnant, give birth, and look after babies, along with training films for obstetricians and health care professionals, and a handful of home movies.

Assembling her extraordinary trove from over 100 different sources, including newly rediscovered Soviet and French childbirth material tracing the evolution of Lamaze, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES inventively untangles the complex, sometimes surprising genealogies of maternal education. This extraordinary achievement illuminates our changing narratives of maternal success and failure while raising important questions about our social and historical constructions of motherhood.


"Irene Lusztig's fearless and riveting investigation into motherhood and the unfree maternal body shows how a skilled filmmaker can wring both eloquence and entertainment from archival material.

Rick Prelinger, archivist and founder Prelinger Archives & Prelinger Library

"A must-see film for feminists teaching or thinking about motherhood today, as well as its representational legacy, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES makes critical inroads into subjects that feminism (or women) have always, somehow looked past..."

Alexandra Juhasz Professor of Media Studies, Pitzer College

"The visually stunning footage curated from a century's worth of birthing movements will inspire impassioned discussion and debates about the changing political and social economy of motherhood. An excellent teaching tool."

Kristen Ghodsee Prof. of Gender and Women's Studies, Bowdoin College

"Through the masterful integration of archival footage and historical interpretation, Lusztig’s film catalogs the changing attitudes towards pregnancy, labor, and delivery. This film is perfect for students taking Women’s History or History of Medicine; actually, anyone planning a pregnancy should see this movie."

Elizabeth Reis, Professor Women’s and Gender Studies Dept., University of Oregon

“It’s a beautifully made, carefully researched, and fascinating film that uses feminist filmmaking techniques to challenge some of the narratives surrounding pregnancy and childbirth and to give voice to some of the hidden histories and experiences.”

Jillian Sandell, Associate Prof, Women and Gender Studies, San Francisco State University


  • Women Media Arts & Film Festival, Winner, Best Feature Film
  • Santa Cruz Film Festival
  • London and Porto Underground Film Festival
  • Antimatter Media Arts Festival


Irene Lusztig

IRENE LUSZTIG is a feminist filmmaker, archival researcher, educator, and amateur seamstress. Her film and video work mines old images for new meanings in order to reframe, recuperate, and reanimate forgotten and neglected histories. Beginning with rigorous research in archives, her work brings historical materials into conversation with the present day, inviting viewers to contemplate questions of politics, ideology, and the production of personal, collective, and national memories. She is invested in expanding the form of artful nonfiction through her lyrical use of archival images, her commitment to listening-centered and collaborative cinematic approaches, patient durational shooting, and open-ended, associative editing where the viewer is encouraged to make connections between past and present. She is the solo director, producer, DP, and editor of three acclaimed feature length documentaries that have screened widely in festivals and are distributed by Women Make Movies: her debut film RECONSTRUCTION (2001), the feature length archival film essay THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES (2013), and the performative documentary YOURS IN SISTERHOOD (2018).

Born in England and raised in Boston, Irene is a first generation American whose parents left Ceaucescu’s Romania in the late 1960s. Her work has been screened around the world, including at the Berlinale, MoMA, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, Flaherty NYC, IDFA Amsterdam, Hot Docs, AFI Docs, BFI London Film Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, DocLisboa, and RIDM Montréal. She has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Fulbright, and the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship. She teaches filmmaking at UC Santa Cruz where she is Professor of Film and Digital Media. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. (11/21)


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