Zemene is a simple story in some ways. A girl with a horrendous spine defect from a small Ethiopian Village by chance runs into a doctor who can help, and by doing so sends her on a trajectory of empowerment, growth and influence beyond anything any girl from her village (and most people anywhere) could even imagine. It’s a story of overcoming struggles, the importance of education, of purpose and one of possibility. It is a perfect match for Cinequest.
What you don’t know, but you’re watching along with this story as it unfolds, is a similar, parallel story about the documentary’s film maker. A cinematographer, who just happened to be following this doctor for a separate project when he chanced upon meeting our Zemene, and was taken by her story. As she collected initial footage of the interaction of this relationship with the intent of passing it off to someone to make the film, she realized that SHE was the one destined to tell this story; she was already on her own trajectory. She would have to overcome the fear and operate outside her comfort zone and raise the money and make the film herself, having never done so before.
Serendipity, faith, destiny, opportunity, whatever label you wish to put to it is key to this story on every level. That moment when the stars align and you discover you have a choice…a moment, a revelation, an opportunity… a connection and all you have to decide is what to do with that connection. A jump and a leap without knowing exactly where or how far it will take you. Zemene and the film that surrounds her life story (so far) is a powerful display of those moments of interconnectivity that are simultaneously miniscule and monumental. The ones that make the overwhelming tragedy and sadness of this world more manageable and the ones that break down the borders and boundaries that separate us. This film reminds us we are part of a whole, each and every one of us.
While not a technically perfect film, it highlights a beautiful country and some truly beautiful people in a beautiful way. The spirit of Zemene and the compassionate network of people she inspires shines through any minor shortcomings in editing, pacing or production value, elevating this film far beyond where it might stand as an example of just fine filmmaking. It is fine storytelling and it speaks to your heart and your soul and sends a humbling message of kindness by highlighting one of this planet’s indomitable spirits. This is a film to help heal in every sense of the word, contagiously courageous and positive. What a journey for all our real life players. What a result. What a treat for the audience. 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara. The Cinequest screenings are over, but hopefully there will be future opportunities to see this glimpse at a culture and individual at the core of positive change, one smile, one surgery, one piece of art at a time.