This weekend, I went to see A Walk To Beautiful, a heartbreaking and gorgeously constructed documentary about women in Ethiopia whose devastating injuries after childbirth have rendered them incontinent and, in turn, ostracized by their communities. It was perhaps the best documentary I’d seen in years.
On my way out of the theater (I saw it at the Quad Cinema), I encountered a middle-aged, bespectacled man hyperactively schmoozing with the dozen or so audience members. Turned out he was the executive producer, Steven Engel, who for the last couple weeks has been spending five or more hours a day at the Quad chatting up viewers and answering questions between showings. He told me that the crew was composed entirely of women—the Ethiopian subjects were mortified enough without having to describe their ordeal to men—and said that he would be distributing the film for free all over Africa.
Getting the film out hasn’t been quite so easy in America, though. Engel explained that how well A Walk to Beautiful does in the next week at the Quad will determine whether theaters in D.C., Chicago, and other major cities will pick it up. (It’s already scheduled to open in LA on February 29.) The film wasn’t eligible for this year’s Oscars, but it will be next year, and it has already beat out three of this year’s Academy nominees (Sicko, No End in Sight and Operation Homecoming) to receive the International Documentary Association’s top award. It’d be a safe bet in your 2009 Oscar pool.