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Filmmaker Couple Asks Themselves ‘Why the F*** Am I So Sad?’ to Reclaim the Narrative of Childlessness

After 14 years together, editor Nela Märki and cinematographer-producer Martin Rattini locate a kernel of sadness in a shared life they describe as happy: they have not been able to have children. Grief and love inform the couple’s first feature—they share directors’ credits—with the title “Why the F*** Am I So Sad?,” which documents their changing relationship to childlessness.

Their documentary project was pitched earlier this week at Thessaloniki’s Pitching Forum and has since received the Mediterranean Film Institute Doc Award, which consists of free participation in the 2024 edition of the MFI Doc Lab, a script development program dedicated to documentaries. Films that Märki has edited have screened at Locarno, CPH:DOX and IDFA, but “Why the F*** Am I So Sad?” will be a debut feature for both of them as directors. Rattini, who is also a cinematographer, produces with Italy’s Helios Sustainable Films.

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Speaking with Variety, Märki says she’d noticed nuanced depictions of childless couples were lacking in cinema, while the existent ones were mostly negatively tinted, particularly the women. Then, she understood the best way forward was to make a film about her and Martin’s story, and to do it together. “We thought, ‘We’re filmmakers, let’s document this!’,” says Rattini regarding the way the couple dealt with an ongoing cycle of IVF treatments, procedures invasive to the female body often billed as “an easy fix and a quick thing.” After a decade of trying to build a nuclear family, the two embarked on a journey to make “a film about what comes after you realize nothing works,” Märki says, suggesting that maybe there is something else to cherish in that situation, “living a happy life without children.”

Märki was open about her ambivalence on the topic of motherhood, being both “open” and “pressured” by societal expectations.” In the titular question, they consider the pitfalls of identity as defined against a rigid idea of the “normal” nuclear family: “If we weren’t able to do this ‘normal’ thing, are we not part of the ‘normal’ people?,” she asks. In the process of researching childlessness, she noticed how strong the recurring narrative is, and how one-sided: if you don’t have kids, you lack something fundamental.

After the age of 40, as Westerners, they noticed that exclusion and isolation happen almost naturally when you’re the only childless couple in a friend group. This aspect of the social rules made them consider “Why the F*** Am I So Sad?” also a project where they can question belonging. “Almost a quarter of the population of Western Europe and Japan never have children, so what about them? Nobody talks about them, at least not in a very positive light,” Märki says.

Developing this documentary project has allowed the couple to turn the camera on themselves and each other for the first time in such an intense way. “Why the F*** Am I So Sad?” mixes an archive of holiday memories, filmed on Super 8 with an underwater camera, with digital, 4K or smartphone footage of their daily life now, as it unfolds. “These are our so-called ‘happy moments’,” Rattini says, poking fun at the idea of a perfect—and perfectly documented—couple, “because when you film each other on analogue film for 10 years, on every vacation, you end up with a representation of the perfect couple.”

Additionally, Märki and Rattini will digitalize and incorporate archive materials from their own families to complement the structure. An important part they have also mapped out is a part where they reflect on the dreams and aspirations they’ve had, and “also things we cannot tell each other, like our fears,” Märki says. The two have slightly different attitudes toward childlessness depending on their individual backgrounds, so to tell their different stories, she says, they plan to involve therapists as facilitator figures. Contrasting with the imagery of a “perfect couple” is raw honesty in their shared search for ways to “free yourself from internalized social narratives and stereotypes,” she says.

The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival runs March 7 – 17.

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