WINNER - MERIT AWARD - TIDF
TAIWAN INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL 2006
WINNER - 'IF' DISCOVERY AWARD FOR
BEST AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARY 2005
WINNER - AFI AWARD FOR
BEST DIRECTING IN DOCUMENTARY 2005
JABE BABE - A HEIGHTENED LIFE
A tall girl with a tall story.
FEATURING JABE BABE (as herself)
Jabe Babe passed away on 6th April 2008 at the
age of 34, due to heart complications.
This film is fondly dedicated to her.
review: (see more by clicking reviews tab)
“Blisteringly inventive and visually out-there, the latest film from acclaimed Sydney film-maker Janet Merewether is nothing if not genre-shattering….The film offers a stimulating examination of illness, the aberrant body and social conformity from a colourfully personal perspective.”
(Lynden Barber – Sydney Film Festival 2005)
Written and Directed by Janet Merewether.
Produced by Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions
Janet Merewether, Deborah Szapiro, and Georgia Wallace-Crabbe.
Go Girl Productions, SBS Independent, the Australian Film Commission and the New South Wales Film and Television Office.
A tall girl with a tall story, 31 year old Jabe Babe measures six foot two inches (188cm), works as a dominatrix and has a life threatening genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome. This 52 minute hybrid documentary, merging fiction and non-fiction forms, inhabits the heightened 'Technicolor' world of the tall woman, the outsider, to provoke questions about society's desire for sexual, visual, and genetic conformity.
Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life explores the personal and medical experiences of 31 year old Jabe Babe, who measures 6ft 2 inches (188cm) and has a life threatening genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome. Jabe works and lives on the margins, defying society’s expectations of the ‘normal’ feminine body and sexuality.
Marfan Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that weakens the 'glue' in the body, resulting in very a distinctive physical and medical profile. It is one of the most common but least publicly known genetic disorders, affecting at least one in three thousand people, regardless of race or gender, and is usually fatal if left undiagnosed. Due to the threat of an aortic aneurism, Jabe underwent open heart surgery at the age of 17. She was fitted with an artificial valve in her aorta, which requires her to be monitored regularly, and to take blood thinning medication for the rest of her life.
Until the age of six, Jabe lived with her schizophrenic mother, Philomena. She was taken away by government welfare authorities due to her mother’s perceived incapacity to provide adequate care. Jabe spent the next ten years passing through a succession of foster families. Her contact with Philomena was restricted to sporadic supervised visits in welfare offices. During her childhood, Jabe’s treatment for Marfan Syndrome varied depending on the foster family, and her body was regarded as an interesting 'specimen' for medical professionals to examine.
Jabe’s childhood was marked by instability, disempowerment, neglect and abuse. Along with the physical manifestations of Marfan Syndrome, these experiences have affected Jabe’s capacity for intimate relationships, and the choices of work available to her.
Told that she would die by the age of 25, Jabe lived her life intensely, without plans. For the last seven years she led a successful career as a dominatrix, a profession that has allowed her to use her height and insights into power and powerlessness to great advantage. In later years she was less satisfied with her choice of career due to the repetition and banality of her clients’ sexual fantasies. Jabe met a new partner, and realised that her work as a dominatrix may interfere with the success of this relationship.
In a medical consultation with Marfan Syndrome specialist, Dr Lesley Adès, Jabe discovers that due to advances in medical technology there is every likelihood that she may have a normal life expectancy and that the medical information on which she has based her life is now incorrect.
At 31 years of age, with the realisation that she now has a future, Jabe takes the first steps to plan her life. Jabe has all the usual aspirations to lead a happy, healthy life, however she encounters difficulties in translating her hard earned professional skills into the language of the job marketplace. The realities of adjusting to poor pay and the daily work grind, on top of the physical restrictions of Marfan Syndrome and her unresolved relationship with her mother, bring frustration. However, Jabe’s humour and strength of character allow her to move forward.
The recent visit to Dr Lesley Adès also introduces the subject of childbirth. As a teenager, Jabe was made aware of the complexities involved in reproduction for women with Marfan Syndrome. The stress of childbirth would be a great risk to her physically, due to her weakened heart. She also faces the moral dilemma of passing on a known genetic disorder and her “freak” status to the next generation.
Dr Adès informs Jabe that with the latest techniques of pre-implantation diagnosis, and the option of surrogacy, she would be able to have a ‘normal’ child. However, Jabe rejects the idea of genetic screening, and poses the question of whether genetic perfection is a guarantee of a perfect life anyway. Are people like herself, who live in different kinds of bodies, less valid, less acceptable than others? The film validates her difference, as she rises from outsider to confident protagonist.
Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life challenges mainstream society’s obsession with genetic and social perfection, and presents the life of a young woman who has positively embraced the ‘imperfection’ of her existence.
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