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Vol. 6, No.1, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
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The Edukators
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An Inconvenient Truth


reviewed by



Kent Turner is editor of where this review orginally appeared.

With no prologue or voice-over (avoiding obviously pontificating), director Kim Longinotto throws the viewer, cinema-vérité style, headlong into the office of state prosecutor Vera Ngassa, a well-tailored matronly woman in her late thirties. Sisters in Law directed by Kim LonginottoShe is part of the Women Lawyers Association in the village of Kumba Town, Cameroon, hence the title, which unfortunately sounds like a pallid Touchstone comedy from the ‘80s.

The camera follows three cases of domestic abuse, two involving Muslim wives who have filed spousal abuse charges against their husbands, and the other a diminutive and withdrawn six-year-old runaway, Grace, who has multiple scars all over her body. Immediately the viewer is part of the legal process, from evidence gathering to trial. Other cases handled by Ngassa include a young woman contesting a man who claims he bought her as his wife from her father for 80 thousand francs and a pig, and a 10-year-old girl charging a neighbour with rape.

Unlike the Oscar-nominated Darwin’s Nightmare, which, granted, dealt with a whole horde of other issues (environmental disaster and AIDS, to name just two) and in another part of Africa (Tanzania), Longinotto’s film takes the viewer in the trenches, directly focusing on problem solving, rather than hovering above the issues as an observer, as in the unsparingly bleak Nightmare. Although their subject matter is different, both films deal with a changing Africa. As one plaintiff here puts it, “This century is one where women’s rights are respected.” By focusing on the enforcement of these rights, Sisters in Law at least offers solutions and well-justified hope.

Just like watching Judge Judy or Judge Hatchett, one of the documentary’s highlights is the verbal smack down delivered by a stern maternal figure. “Don’t you ‘sister’ me,” scolds Ngassa to a sniveling woman charged in the beating of Grace. But instead of a gavel, a court session begins with staccato tapping at a window by the judge before entering. Other proceedings will be just as intriguing: Judge Beatrice Ntuba reprimands a defendant for gesticulating during an eyewitness’s testimony. He must refrain from any sort of comment or else be sent outside to be thrashed. Ngassa, representing the prepubescent rape victim in court, emphasizes the nature of the crime by pointing out the girl “has no boobies on her chest.” And apparently the aunt charged in Grace’s beating doesn’t have legal representation. That loophole will probably be just one of many questions unexplained. Although there are few scenes of her son visiting her at work, there’s no background on Ngassa’s private or professional life, let alone on the Republic of Cameroon, formed from the union of a British and French Colony, with a population of roughly 40 percent Christian, 20 percent Muslim. But such is the small price for the director’s unobtrusive investigation.

Directed, Produced by & Director of Photography: Kim Longinotto.
Edited by: Ollie Huddleston.
Music by: D'Gary.
Released by: Women Make Movies.
Language: English & Pidgin with English subtitles.

Country of Origin: Cameroon/UK. 106 min.

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