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Christy Turlington Burns doesn’t “dabble.” When the supermodel discovered yoga 22 years ago, she didn’t just put on a pair of Lululemon stretch pants, learn how to do a downward facing dog and call it a day. Instead, Burns transformed herself into a full-fledged yogi — eventually writing a book on the practice, designing a line of mat-friendly clothing for Puma and interviewing the Dalai Lama for the “Today” show. So, it’s not surprising that when Burns became interested in prenatal health after suffering complications from the birth of her first child in 2003, she dove into the cause head first. The resulting effort, a full-length documentary titled “No Woman, No Cry” will premiere April 24 at Village East Cinemas as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Narrated by Burns, the film takes a look at the health care options for pregnant women in four different countries: Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and the United States.
While it was Burns’ first time in the director’s chair, the 41-year-old mother of two has long been involved with health-related causes: She’s been an outspoken antismoking activist since losing her father to lung cancer, and also has worked with poverty relief organization CARE as well as the HIV/AIDS foundation (Product) Red. And lest her detractors ask what business a catwalker has getting involved in the medical community, Burns is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at Columbia, thank you very much.
This story first appeared in the April 16, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: Prenatal health care is obviously an important issue to you personally, but why did you want to make a film about it?
Christy Turlington Burns: I wanted to accomplish what Eve Ensler was able to accomplish with the “Vagina Monologues” — to connect women from a common experience or a common anatomy. Birth is a neutralizer for women.…I hope this film will show in a soft, gentle but very clear way that women are still not equal and, sadly, [they] take the brunt for the failings in our health systems. It’s an opportunity for people to say this isn’t acceptable anymore — even here [in the U.S.] we can do a lot better.
WWD: Did directing come naturally to you?
C.T.B.: I’ve had a little bit of journalism experience [as a contributor to the “Today” show] so I had some sense of asking questions and being on camera. And I wasn’t holding the camera, so I didn’t have to learn the technical aspect of that. We didn’t have a scripted story, so there was an element of surprise and I made those calls with my gut, instinctively. Not to be too esoteric, but through my yoga practice I just have that sense of being very in touch with what I think is the right thing and the right move.
WWD: Did you consult your husband [director Ed Burns, whose movie, “Nice Guy Johnny,” is also premiering at Tribeca] for any filmmaking advice?
C.T.B.: I didn’t think I would at first because it was a different kind of filmmaking, but actually we shared an office and our editing rooms were side by side. It was incredibly helpful when we were going through our long editing process to have him come in with his fresh eyes and have a man’s eyes that are not deeply entrenched in this issue.
WWD: How do you think your status as a supermodel will affect the way this film is received?
C.T.B.: I don’t really think of myself as a supermodel. I think my reputation and the things I’ve done in the time since I was in my early 20s has proven to people that I take issues seriously and I don’t really spend time with people who might think otherwise. [But] sometimes people need an individual to help them into an issue, which is why I ultimately put myself in the film. Hopefully, my part eventually falls away.
WWD: You are also pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia. Why?
C.T.B.: Part of it was to help the whole “celebrity talking about a cause” [thing] because [now] I’m actually a participant in the community of health. I didn’t have to [pursue this degree] and it’s not easy to work part time, be a mom, make a movie and go to school, so that’s something people can recognize in me.
WWD: Do any of your classmates do a double take during roll call?
C.T.B.: No. They are so much younger than I am and the supermodel time was such a long time ago, thank God. There aren’t that many older students, so I may stand out in that way.