Last year, I was dazzled by the emotional pyrotechnics on display in Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation; its raw, home-grown authenticity inspired me enough to make it my favorite film.
This year, documentaries gripped me again even more than did the fiction films I saw. First of this year’s ten favorites is Sisters-in-Law, which knocked me flat and earned my tears of shock and joy on behalf of these real women and girls finally facing their abusive husbands or rapists in a court of law.
With us as their witnesses they tell their stories, in the court of two amazing and stalwart advocates for women: Cameroonian lawyer Vera Ngassa and judge Beatrice Ntuba. You might expect such material to be difficult or heavy to watch, but the interactions between the women and men in the film provide surprisingly rich information about this culture. And when these women go about righting wrongs as matter-of-factly as they would place cups in a cupboard, we learn ever so much more about standing up for what is right. Could any moral fable a la Hollywood, with all its portentous scoring that hardly leaves us room to choose whether to breathe and sets down its final lesson as gently as a sack of concrete, ever have as much to tell us about life?
Whether the presence of director Kim Longinotto, a white, western filmmaker, had anything to do with the favorable outcomes of the cases is debatable but hardly problematic. For these women, the decisions were all good and right, and Sisters-In-Law gives us the amazing opportunity to see it all firsthand via the magic of film.