Brenda Davis’ documentary Sister shines a light on a surprising humanitarian crisis affecting developing countries: childbirth-related deaths. Through the stories and experiences of doctor Goitom Berhane and midwives Pum Mach and Madam Bwa (in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti, respectively), the film paints a heartbreaking picture of the mortality rate of mother and child when healthcare is not easily obtained or pursued (home births are most common).
With numerous deaths easily preventable, the film is incessantly tragic. Despite community education and the like, it doesn’t change the challenges of paying for healthcare when it is most needed or, in many rural communities, just getting to a clinic or hospital. And for those who survive the pregnancy (and the odds are horrible; 1 in 27 mothers die from childbirth-related causes in Ethiopia, for example), the health risks are not over. Babies suffer from lack of sustenance as mothers get sick, or are unable to provide breast milk for whatever reason. It’s a horrible situation all around.
Unfortunately, while the film brings much-needed attention to this issue, it doesn’t necessarily suggest what can be done to help. Helping get dependable healthcare to rural, or any, communities the world over would help solve any number of issues, not just related to childbirth. This is a tragic situation, and one I have not thought about despite, for example, being acutely aware of the plight of those stricken with HIV the world over. I wouldn’t have minded more direction, in the end, on what I can do to help; call to action documentaries are all that more effective when they tell you what you can do.
On the filmmaking side, I also don’t know that this needs to be a feature film. While it presents quite a few cases of dangerous pregnancies, you know the situation early on, and the film doesn’t offer more information so much as just offer additional examples. I assure you, this is a film that doesn’t take much for you to grasp the severity of the problem; more examples doesn’t underline the point so much as prolong it. A strong 15-20 minute cut would make sure this film more easily gets exposure the world over, say through film festivals, and isn’t exposure the point?
In the end, I found Sister to be a powerful film. Surprisingly, I’d not thought about the dangers of childbirth the world over even though, once you mention it, it becomes painfully obvious. I’d have liked more direction from the film on what I can do to help, but at least it informs enough to potentially inspire the audience to do their own research on how to help after the fact.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.