A difficult journey that begins in loneliness and shame for thousands of Ethiopian women ends in a productive new life and hope for the future in this award-winning film, co-directed by Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher. Shot against a starkly beautiful landscape, A Walk to Beautiful shares the inspiring stories of three women, rejected by their husbands and ostracized by their communities, who leave home in search of treatment for obstetric fistula.
“Huh?” you say. In the simplest, if most cringe-inducing, terms, fistulas refer to a tear, or hole, between the vagina and rectum or bladder, frequently the result of inadequate prenatal and childbirth medical care. Once fairly common in the pre-industrial United States, this life-shattering complication of childbirth is now relegated mostly to the poorest regions of the world; in Ethiopia alone, there are an estimated 100,000 women suffering from untreated fistulas. Somewhat understandably, their shared plight is one not frequently discussed. The women are shunned, and looked down upon.
A Walk to Beautiful tells their story, in somewhat short-form fashion. In a courageous attempt to reclaim their lives, these women embark on a journey to a remarkable hospital — walking for hours to the nearest road, searching for public transportation to Addis Ababa, the capital. Finally, surrounded by women like themselves and a compassionate medical team of Western and African doctors, they find a haven that they never imagined, transforming their long and arduous trek into a “walk to beautiful.”
Smith and Bucher have an outsiders’ perspective, true, but their documentary neither condescends or rages inappropriately. Instead, it’s both coldly factual (pointing out that there are under 150 OB/GYNs for 77 million patients) and supremely sympathetic, suffused with humanity and optimism. Watching, one grasps the supreme challenges of medical modernization, but also just how much can be accomplished — in terms of winning hearts and minds through helping bodies — with minimal resources.
Packaged in a regular Amray plastic case and presented in anamorphic widescreen enhanced for 16×9 televisions, A Walk to Beautiful runs about five minutes short of an hour, and comes with a scrollable discussion guide for educators and a bonus video, Fistula Worldwide: The Hidden Epidemic, that underlines the feature presentation’s points in quantitative fashion. Closed captions and described video for the visually impaired are also included. To purchase this DVD, or other WGBH titles, click here. To learn more about the Fistula Foundation, click here. B+ (Movie) C (Disc)