Sundance 2018: Jane Fonda stars in new doc about her life: 'Once I got woke I didn't go back to sleep'
Susan Lacy directed Jane Fonda in Five Acts: 'There have been many Janes... She has gone through many different phases'
At age 80 Jane Fonda remains as compelling a figure as ever, revered by Hollywood, feminists and those on the left, and loathed by many on the right.
The two-time Oscar winner and political activist came to Sundance for the world premiere of a new documentary about her exceptional life, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, directed by Susan Lacy, which will debut on HBO later in the year.
The "five acts" of the title refers to stages in Fonda's life.
I've lived one life that's taken many paths and turns and twists.
"There have been many Janes in her life. She has gone through many different phases. She was very affected by her childhood and her father and each of her three marriages [to Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner]," very much admittedly defining herself being in her father's shadow -- which was not easy to get out from -- defining herself by the men she was married to, all of whom she learned something from and got something from," Lacy told Nonfictionfilm.com.
We asked Fonda how many lives she thinks of herself as having led.
"One!" she responded emphatically. "I've lived one life that's taken many paths and turns and twists. You know we're born with a basic character and to some degree it doesn't change much. But there's a lot that can change and I have changed but the leitmotif is always the same. It's one life."
Group photo at the world premiere of "Jane Fonda in Five Acts." L-R Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, producer Jessica Levin, director Susan Lacy, subject Jane Fonda, producer Emma Pildes, and Fonda's son Troy Garity, who appears in the film. Park City, Utah, Saturday, January 20, 2018. Photo by Matt Carey
Before heading to the premiere, Fonda participated in the Women's March in Park City, Utah, one of many rallies held around the country to demand political change and gender equality.
On the arrival line she spoke of her political evolution.
"I'm older and wiser and clearer and more focused and more able I think to know what has to be done at a certain time and that's why today at the march I spoke about the importance of going beyond protest to organizing on the ground," Fonda said.
At the rally she was photographed with her fist in the air, a visual echo of the poster design for Jane Fonda in Five Acts, which shows her with a fist in the air from a mugshot photo from 1970 when she was arrested on a drug charge.
We asked her about the consistency of her political engagement over time.
"Once I got woke I didn't go back to sleep. Put it that way," she said with a laugh.
Fonda vigorously protested the Iraq War, but it was her anti-Vietnam activism that has earned her lasting enmity from many conservatives. She was dubbed "Hanoi Jane" after she visited North Vietnam in 1972 to bring attention to U.S. bombing there. Fonda has apologized for some of her actions at that time, including posing for a photo with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, which she described in her memoir as "a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever."
Troy Garity, Fonda's son by Tom Hayden, appears in the film. On the arrival line he spoke in favor of a nuanced evaluation of his mother's history of activism.
"I think people mistake her actions as un-American when in fact she's been a champion for democracy and justice since day one, and in fact was willing to sacrifice everything in order to build, in her mind, a better country and better world. So I think that's very noble," he told Nonfictionfilm.com. "I think people -- when you disagree with someone else -- should examine intention as opposed to taking it personally. So when someone is offensive to you I think you need to ask what is this person trying to do? And then you can have a judgment on their behavior."
Garity said seeing the documentary was instructive for him.
"I learned about her humility. She confronted some things in her life that are painful or regrettable and to see her go through that emotional journey was revealing and beautiful."
He talked about some of the struggles his mother has faced, going back to an emotinally-fraught childhood.
"[Her] mother, my grandmother, killed herself when they were very young, in a household that wasn't equipped to process that or deal with that so they didn't even tell the kids. They just lied to them. They didn't know she was dead," he told us. "It's a terrible thing that has generational effects but you deal with those things and you try to mend yourself and your family and learn from them and I think that this film does that a little bit. It's powerful. Listen, Jane, my mom, lives life at a furious pace and she dives into everything 100-percent with her body and soul and she did the same thing with this film. She wouldn't have done it if she couldn't benefit spiritually from it or intellectually from it so hopefully that translates. I think it does."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.