Friday, October 11, 2013

Dallas VideoFest 26 Review: VESSEL - Jonesy's Take

Directed by Diana Whitten
Synopsis: A documentary that follows the organization, Women on Waves, as they try to bring abortion options to women in countries where it is outlawed. 

The fight over women's rights doesn't seem like it will end anytime soon. We're fighting our own battles here in the US, but overseas, many women are in even more precarious situations when it comes to the right to choose. VESSEL chronicles the tribulations of an organization, Women on Waves, and its founder, Rebecca Gomperts, as they find loopholes around abortion laws and give women a safe option for themselves.

The film begins when Rebecca and her crew are finalizing all the documentation needed to secure performing abortions on a boat 12 miles out from land. Once you are 12 miles out from land, you are in international waters and the flagship of the boat has jurisdiction. So, since the boat is from the Netherlands, where abortion is legal, they can perform abortions legally even if the woman is from a different country. But with each new destination, the boat and their organization is met with an barrage of protesters. Through all the strife, it's impressive how composed Rebecca keeps herself. She speaks a mile-a-minute, and her passion and energy is infectious. And there's a specific scene on a talk show in the later half of the film where her response to a comment made by a man would have made an American audience burst into rowdy applause.

In most documentaries, if the film doesn't work, it's usually because the subject matter isn't interesting. However, this film has the opposite problem. The subject matter is interesting and important, but the film itself lacks any sort of tension. There are moments where Rebecca is facing various forms of opposition like protesters or government bodies, but there was never a feeling that she would fail. It seemed that they always found the perfect solution to their problems. After the film, the director, Diana Whitten, stated she came and started to follow the story about midpoint in the film, and that the first half, which focuses on their abortion boat, she pieced together from old films and stock footage. The story is there and if it had been edited better, it would have made a more tense narrative.

When there's a film that deals with a lot of medical information or laws, there has to be some front loading of information so the audience can easily follow along. Intercut between the story is animation explaining various facts and medical jargon. The information itself is necessary, but the way it was presented got tiresome. Some animation segments took upwards to two or three minutes, and ended up feeling like a prolonged infograph than a natural part of the film. However, one animation technique that was used in a powerful way was showing emails from women all over the world seeking help from Women on Waves. Each email stated different reasons for needing their help, but each has a sense of desperation and sorrow.

It does have inspiring moments sprinkled throughout where you see small victories Women on Waves achieves. I wanted the film to completely inspire me and leave me wanting to join their organization and fight with them, but it just missed the mark. But even with its problems, this film is worth a watch just based on the subject matter alone.

VESSEL will play again tonight, October 11th, at 9:15.

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