The documentary

"The negotiations around having a baby and not having a baby were painful and it was an atomic war and my atomic bomb was 'I’m leaving' and yours was 'I’m having a child'. Sooner or later you realise that if you drop the bomb first you win."




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Losing Layla video coverIt began with them arguing about a baby.
It ended where they never imagined.

For a few years now, people have been talking about the ways the new technology of small digital cameras will revolutionise documentary filmmaking. Primarily by allowing the camera to get closer to the subject than ever before.

LOSING LAYLA is a documentary spawned by this revolution. It is a deeply personal, intimate video diary that follows the lives of two lovers through an extraordinary passage in their lives.

We meet Michael and Vanessa, two thirty-something seachangers from Sydney living near Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales, Australia. They are in the middle of the modern day war- when to have a baby. She’s a ticking desperado, he wants to run a mile.

Vanessa dropped the bomb first and became pregnant.

For sometime, their relationship had been a threesome; Michael, Vanessa and the Digicam. Now the camera enters the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen and follows their progress through the pregnancy; recording Vanessa’s rising excitement and Michael’s rising anxiety. As a documentary director with 15 years experience, Vanessa Gorman set out to make a film that would chronicle the impact of a baby on their relationship and how that baby would change their lives.

But what happened then was something that would change their lives in a way they never expected. After a robustly healthy pregnancy, Vanessa is in labour the day after Valentines Day in the year 2000. Friend and filmmaker Cathy Henkyl arrives to take over the filming and captures the visceral drama of a long and difficult labour. After twenty hours the baby is in distress and Vanessa is wheeled upstairs for an emergency caesarean. Layla is born with respiratory distress from meconium inhalation and over the next few hours struggles for breath. Michael the reluctant sperm donor is suddenly a father, holding his daughter’s hand and willing her to live. She is airlifted to Brisbane but dies eight hours after birth in Michael’s arms.

In the days, weeks and months after Layla’s death, the already present camera is witness to some of the rawest scenes of grief ever captured. But grief is only a word that describes the journey of living so many emotions. There are tears and despair, envy and rage but there is also laughter, love and beauty that arises from the depths of every parents worst nightmare.

LOSING LAYLA is an emotional journey that bears witness to a loss that has so often in the past been minimised and seen as ‘less than’ other deaths or losses.

It is also a powerful testament to the notion that the journey of grief is not about the resolution of our most painful emotions but about accepting them and allowing them to deepen and soften us.
LOSING LAYLA is ultimately the story of two lovers navigating their way through the territory of the heart , attempting to live their truth and their grief as openly as they live their laughter and their love.

A year and a half after the documentary Losing Layla aired, ABC TV’s Australian Story aired a follow up half hour called Regarding Raphael. This program chronicled meeting Vanessa’s partner James, the pregnancy and birth of her next child Raphael and the reality of becoming a parent. The DVD of Losing Layla also includes Regarding Raphael plus a home movie follow-up featuring Raphael three years on and the birth of her baby daughter Francesca in May 2005.

Vanessa with son Raphael

Photo of crew
Writer/Director - VANESSA GORMAN

Executive Producer (ABC) - DASCHA ROSS