This rather traditional documentary by filmmaker Mary Olive Smith looks at the phenomenon of obstetric fistula through the stories of five different women in Ethiopia who travel hundreds of miles to reach the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa. Obstetric fistula is a child-birthing injury that’s long been eradicated from most of the Western world. Usually rural, the women who suffer from the condition have experienced obstructed labor and did not have the ability to reach medical attention in time to save their babies. The result is a stillbirth and a wound between the bladder and/or rectum that connects to the vaginal passageway and causes perpetual incontinence.
The women’s communities and families reject these “modern lepers” who suffer no end of trauma, until ambassadors of the Addis Ababa fistula hospital find them. At this hospital they can seek a relatively simple surgery that will close their fistulas and allow them to reintegrate into their communities. The hospital represents a great deal to these women who have been shunned and alone, some for many years. There they meet and commune with other fistula sufferers, some who await surgery, others who have been healed and look forward to a new life.
Smith’s approach has the gentle feel of traditional anthropology. Even the hospital’s founder is something of a matron of the charitable, old colonialism. The medical information can be a bit difficult to stomach given the emotional and physical implications, but the film ultimately explains a situation that has been worsened by ignorance, thus educating on the problem that is a big first step toward resolution.
Director: Mary Olive Smith
Producers: Steven Engel, Mary Olive Smith and Allison Shigo
Genre: Documentary; Amharic- and Oromigna-language, subtitled
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 85 min.
Release date: February 8, 2008 NY, February 29 LA