Sisters in Law

Reviewed By Mark Rodger-Snelson
Posted 05/23/05 07:59:19

"A refreshingly hopeful documentary set in Africa"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Sisters in Law is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows the work of the all female State Counsel and Court President in Kumba, a small town in Cameroon, Africa.

It covers fours cases: Six year old Manka who has run away from home to escape her violent aunt; two determined women who bravely stand up to their abusive husbands and the pre-pubescent Sonata who accuses a neighbour of rape. Although this sounds as though it might be quite harrowing, there is laughter and hope to be found in this engrossing documentary. Africa is almost exclusively portrayed by Western media as a place of continual suffering and despair. Even though Sisters in Law does have its fair share of tragedy it does shed new light on day to day life in a country rarely depicted in this way.

One of the film’s co-directors is Kim Longinotto has worked as a cinematographer and director on many documentaries focusing on women from around the world from Iran to Japan and is probably best known to mainstream audiences for her TV series Rock Wives. Florence Ayisi has made a number of short films that also centre on women’s and racial issues. Together they have made a fantastic film that contains elements that would normally be a traumatic viewing experience but thankfully they have focused on the hope that these women bring to their clients resulting in an overall uplifting film.

This is a documentary that is so well edited and whose characters are so colourful that no narration is necessary. For all the shock and tears, there are equal amounts of laughter to be had form these spirited and vibrant characters. These court workers who take a hard feminist line in a male dominated society are not women you would want to cross. They make Judge Judy look like the fairy godmother when handing down their sentences.

Sisters in Law is incredibly moving and at times unsettling but on the whole encompasses hope and courage from unexpected places. Most importantly this documentary moves away from the negative stereotypes normally associated with Africa and gives a fresh perspective on its people.

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