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Hot Docs 2015 Interview: Noemi Weis talks about infant nutrition in Milk and the celebration of bringing a new life into this world


Every mother has a right to feed her baby the way she thinks is right. Can we stop her from doing what her heart says? What is the right thing to do when the numbers of infant mortality are climbing higher and higher? Unfortunately, not many things are being done to prevent it, for one simple reason; big corporations develop formula that is not suitable for infants and the misinformation on the label of milk products leads women, who have no education and access to the right information, think that the powdered milk is good enough for her infant – but kills the baby soon after. Noemi Weis touches upon one of the most important subjects of our time. The purpose of her documentary is to bring awareness to the issue of infant mortality and how this tragedy may be prevented. After all, without these little ones, there won’t be a future. And now as never before is the right time to fight for this cause any way we can. During the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the director, Noemi Weis, who talked about ‘Milk’ and the importance of helping women by providing the right information. She also talked of how communities must help with education in order to prevent infant mortality…

MovieMovesMe: You`ve touched upon a very sensitive subject. Can you talk about it`s urgency and the importance of spreading the word about it?

Noemi Weis: I think that documentaries are usually about bringing awareness of certain issues that must be talked about. And my idea with this particular film is to raise awareness of the fact that women need to be supported, and that women don`t have the right information most of the time. Infant mortality is a global issue which still continues, and that everybody that is associated with the mother of a child, or who are in health care should be aware of as well. So the spectrum of people I would like to reach is pretty much everybody. And the reasons are, basically, that I would like to raise awareness so that more babies will live, hopefully in a better way, to have a better life in the future.

MMM: What do you think we could do to prevent the distribution of formula milk that harms the health and puts the life of an infant in danger?

NW: You know, I have met a lot of people and advocates for this cause making this film, and advocates that have been working for more than 30 years who are trying to make a difference and one of them said something very important to me when I was interviewing him. I asked him why, over decades, you are still talking about an issue that should be so natural? And he said, “We need support from communities; we need support from people. We can talk, because we are advocates, we are doctors, we know the difference but it`s the community that should make a difference.” So, what I have done in this film is travel around the world to eleven countries, to bring forward the voices of the women themselves. They are all stories, stories that many, many women around the world can relate to; they can identify with. I think that the more we support them, the more we raise our voices as women we can make a difference. And I think that eventually if there are  enough voices, and women are very strong, that the government will start listening, the industry will start listening, and I think everybody around will start to listen.

MMM: Why do you think the media does not talk about this much if they know that all these chemicals with their unnatural nutrition is killing infants?

NW: You mean in general? You know, I think that it stated in the film by one of the participants, Elisabeth Sterkens, very clearly. She is the director of Infact Canada, and I can quote her when she said that ‘there is a misconception to think that all the formula companies have, she says, a product/quota code, where they pull out their socks, and clean up their act, but it`s not true. They continue to do their marketing, they continue to infiltrate products in the most incredible and creative ways to mothers around the world. And it is not just in the free world, it`s everywhere, even in Canada’. In the film I show a woman that lives in Toronto. She is a symbol of how information can be received directly from the company. And how did they get her name? – she said- “From the hospital”.

MMM: When you tell the story in this documentary film, you are not just delivering a message, but you also want the viewer to receive it accordingly. What do you think the viewer must learn from this story?

NW: In an artistic way I think I wanted to bring the viewer back to the roots of Mother Nature. And sometimes, in order to do that, I have to go to extremes. I could have gone to film a homebirth with Delula, but I decided to go to the Indochina’s Community and show the basics, and how babies have been delivered for generations. I show in the film how knowledge has been passed from generation to generation, and nothing has changed. The woman`s body has not changed either. And one of the things I really wanted to make a statement about was the juxta position which is the natural way of bringing a baby into the world without the medical industry interference that is happening everywhere. And, I made that point very strongly just by going back and forth. When we filmed that delivery it was literally 24 hours that we were beside that mother. There was no sense of urgency and everybody just waited. I wanted the viewer to feel that. I go through that from beginning to end.  This is a celebration of life. And I would like for everybody to really recognize that celebration of a life, instead of receiving that baby before he is born with the whole industry that waits for him, or her. And this is why I want everybody to celebrate the life that is born the way it should be.

MMM: People tend to never learn from their mistakes. Do you think spreading the word, talking about this all day ,will help convince even an ignorant parent to stop feeding their infant with formula milk?

NW: I actually think that society has to respect the woman`s decision whatever her decision is. I think the most important thing is for the mother to be informed and to make her own decision because she knows what is best for her and her baby. And she will do her best to have a healthy baby. If her decision is to bottle-feed her baby, then we must respect that.  If her decision is to breast-feed, then we must support her. I think the problem starts when the woman wants to breast-feed and she is not supported properly, and then she is frustrated because she does not get the help she needs. The problem starts when that woman makes her decision and decides what the best thing is for her and her baby. And, when she bottle-feeds her child, everybody starts judging her. I think we have to stop judging everyone. I think that there has been a lot of work from generation to generation and new mothers who have worked so very, very strongly for feminism, to show that a woman needs a career, a woman needs to be equal to a man, a woman needs to be out there just like anyone else independent of gender. And I think that a woman who decides to become a mother now, is a very intelligent woman that has to make an informed decision about how she wants to feed her baby. We have to support and respect her no matter what her decision is. That`s very important. I think the main problem is when she is not supported.

MMM: You talked about donating breast milk for people who are living in poverty; for those that have no choice but to use a cheap formula to feed their infant?

NW: I think that the worse thing could happen is that this mother would be feeding the baby formula.   She does not have money to buy the right formula, and as it is illustrated in the film, they buy the cheapest one. Some of them literally don`t read the label. They are buying a coffee whitener just because they don’t know how to read the label. And they don`t have money to buy any other milk, and then they dilute it with unsuitable water or do not sterilize it. What needs to happen is education and support in emergency areas. The shocking thing for me was to learn was that in an emergency situation these donations only come for a short time. They come for a few weeks or months. And, as it stated very well by one of the participants is that nobody understand the woman`s body. A woman`s body produces milk on demand. The more demand, the more milk she produces. The moment that she stops breast-feeding is the moment when there is no more demand for her milk. She dries up. Then, she thinks the powdered milk she is given is better. She is in an emergency situation and clearly thinks that any gift she is given is better than what she has. She has no confidence in herself. So what do we give her? We give her a powder, and in three weeks, or a month, she has nothing. She is left with nothing. And she has no money, and, no milk, which is worse.  The baby then has no food and this is the cause of many deaths. There are lots of advocates who are willing to help, but this is not enough. The government needs to bring more people. The Government needs to give support with natural resources, with education, and with social workers that will be there to help these mothers because it`s cheaper for them.

Screening Info: 

Monday, April 27th at 6:30 PM Isabel Bader Theater

Wednesday, April 29th at 11 AM Isabel Theater

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