Rave Reviews for Danvers Filmmaker's 'Sarabah'
'Sarabah,' a documentary about Sister Fa's activism against female genital cutting in Africa, was coproduced and directed by Danversite Maria Luisa Gambale.
Sarabah, a documentary film about activism against female genital cutting, co-produced and directed by former Danvers resident Maria Luisa Gambale, has received critical acclaim from its international audiences.
The film's journey began with "Rappers, Diva, and Virtuosos: New Music From the Muslim World," a Link TV program for which Gambale was supervising producer. The show profiled four musicians and their cultures. When deciding on a fifth person to spotlight, a rapper from Senegal named Sister Fa topped Gambale and her co-producer Steven Lawrence's list.
After meeting Sister Fa at the October 2009 UN Day Concert, they were both "beyond impressed," not only with her musical abilities, but also her activism in the controversial female genital cutting issue happening particularly in her home country of Senegal. "She didn't talk like a lot of big NGO's that want lots of money to sustain activities that may or may not be accomplishing something," said Gambale. "She just wanted to go to villages, with her music, and talk to people. She was doing this all with her own money, which was really hard on her and her family. Her commitment was completely convincing."
Although they had limited resources and funds, Gambale and Lawrence saw the potential for something more in Sister Fa's story, and in January of 2010 when Sister Fa and her band's tour of Senegal aligned with the show's production dates, they took advantage of the opportunity.
Alongside their editor, Gloria Bremer, the two worked tirelessly to produce a documentary that was over and above the usual human rights film. "Our goal was to promote her work and the idea of how she works," she said. "And we're all very aesthetically picky, so our goal was also to make a beautiful and watchable human rights film. These films can be so wonderful, but can suffer from lack of visual and audio quality."
The documentary was completed in March of this year, in time to premiere at the Movies That Matter Film Festival in Den Haag, Netherlands. "We all went for the premiere, and it was a beautiful experience and beautiful debut," Gambale recalled. " We couldn't have asked for a lovelier cap to the whole process. I sat with [Sister Fa] as she watched the film for the first time, and it was pretty powerful."
And international audiences have thought so, too.
The film was the 2011 Winner of the Golden Butterfly Award for Best Documentary at the Movies That Matter Film Festival, as well as an official selection at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, International 1001 Film Festival in Istanbul, and the One World Film Festival in Ottawa, among others.
The film has now been shown at more than ten festivals and the group is currently in the process of trying to get the film into the hands of UN organizations, youth activist organizations, and universities as an effective conversational tool. "It's a human rights film; it's a music film; and it's a film about a strong woman. We have the ability to use it to inspire a lot of different people."
Rather than worrying about media criticism, Gambale said it was more important that the film be seen. And now that it has become popular, Gambale credits their success to Sister Fa. "People love her," she said. "People are inspired by her, so they walk away loving the film."
Before Gambale became an acclaimed filmmaker, she grew up in Danvers. She moved into town when she was in seventh grade, later graduating from Danvers High School, and continuing to come back to town on summer vacations during college.
Gambale's family still resides in Danvers; her parents have a garden in Endicott Park, one of her old favorite spots in town.
Sarabah will premiere on Link TV on January 15, 2012.