Richmond multimedia artist Seyla Hossaini released her first silent film, Relief, last month amid the uproar following the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion on the vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. The film is drenched in emotion and upholds the honesty of the real life experience of getting an abortion in modern day Richmond. And while Hossaini filmed long before the draft opinion was leaked, she couldn’t have found a more important time to release her work.
“The film wasn’t made with a political mindset, even though I know the topic itself is now inherently political,” said Hossaini. “It was made to share an experience. It was made for personal healing and catharsis. If someone were to watch it, I’d hope they would understand this is just one experience, but also something people can relate to.”
Hossaini structured “Relief” to be a very simple day in the life of a woman as she goes through the process of waking up on the day of her abortion, and it ends with the start of the following day. In this single day, with few shifts and many emotions, we as viewers get to understand the mental struggles and changes that can occur regardless of our prior knowledge or opinions on the subject.
The film is silent, which is two-fold in purpose. Without dialogue, viewers are not subjected to any one way of thinking about the topic and material. It provides viewers a clean slate without spoken political rhetoric. The lack of dialogue also allows viewers to experience the full range of emotion that the woman portrays. Hossaini followed the influence of some of her favorite silent filmmakers, like Kenneth Anger and others who made similar films during the 60s and 70s, to attempt to convey her message.
“I wanted to focus on the anxiety in the film without words, just on body language,” said Hossaini. “When someone is going through a period of anxiety, they might not verbally communicate that, but there may be a lot of physical feelings involved.”
While for a great deal of the film anxiety is the main prevalent emotion that we feel, the title holds true and we also get to experience the relief that the woman feels, having gotten the procedure done. In the same way that the conversation around the topic of abortion can be complex, the emotions the person getting the procedure may feel can be even more so.
“I feel like the way abortion is portrayed in cinema a lot of the time is overdramatized. It’s obviously not something that’s an easy ‘walk in the park’ experience, but it’s like anything else, and you can overcome it,” said Hossaini. “Everyone’s experience is different, but the reality of the situation is, it’s something people get through every day, and it isn’t always the end of the world. Movies seem to always make it this traumatic experience, and I think that’s almost dangerous to constantly portray it as being traumatic, because women feel like they should be traumatized by it, or that they need to feel shame or upset. When in reality, we should be putting the message out there that feeling and moving on from it is okay.”
While working on “Relief,” Hossaini knew that she was making what could be a controversial film. She and the friends she filmed with discussed the possible reactions and criticisms they would receive. Ultimately they decided that even for people who hold pro-life views, this film may give them a more compassionate understanding of what women faced with these decisions go through.
“One critique we were expecting, particularly from people who are pro-life, or even pro-choice, is that I was treating the issue with ambivalence. It’s not the case, because I do show the physical pain and anxiety she goes through, but I wanted to make sure I communicated that you can move on from these things,” said Hossaini. “Some people like to believe when a woman has an abortion she’s going to be mourning, depressed, and traumatized for the rest of her life. I just hope people don’t put too much emphasis on that.”
No matter how you may feel about abortion before the film, “Relief” plays a genuine role in crafting community around the subject. For others who have been through this experience, the film acts to quell feelings of guilt and shame. While for those who simply have never experienced it or known someone who has but never discussed it, there is an opportunity to learn and join in community through allyship.
“I’ve had people reach out to me that said the film resonated with them because they had similar experiences. I hope that continues to happen so people feel connected and understood,” said Hossaini, who feels that abortion is a mystery for too many people. “A lot of people just don’t know anything about it. I’ve had men ask me questions about like if abortions are painful. People really have no idea what it entails. Now, I think it’s even more important that people have an idea of what that experience looks like.”
Making a film about personal experiences isn’t easy, and neither is sharing that film with the world. For Hossaini, the process of both making and releasing “Relief” was exactly what she needed to be able to make it through these last few years of social, political, and medical chaos.
“I was making the film during the pandemic, and I was personally going through a lot in terms of mental health and depression. I think I was really seeking a feeling of relief. I think everyone kind of was in a sense,” said Hossaini. “Making the film was a really cathartic experience for me in a lot of ways.”
Hossaini’s works and creations have become notable within Richmond, mainly through the music videos she has made both for her band, Toward Space, and others in the city. She intends to release two more films as sequels to “Relief” in the near future. In the meantime, while we all await the release of her upcoming projects, she offers these words of wisdom for those going through tough times like those in her film: “Don’t let anybody tell you you are making the wrong decision, whatever you decide to do. Whatever you feel is right, is the right answer. Try to find people who will support you and won’t judge you.” Watch “Relief” below.
To send inquiries to Hossaini about the film or upcoming projects, you can find her on instagram @theartistichaunting.