By Justine Kraemer, GAC volunteer writer.
This year’s Guelph Festival was wonderful as always. It was filled with many wonderful full documentaries, one of which is Celina Escher’s Fly So Far, a piercing look at reproductive rights and the very real consequences that come from penalizing those born in a woman’s body.
Fly So Far follows the story of Teodora Vásquez, a woman convicted and sentenced for aggravated homicide following the miscarriage of her baby. In El Salvador, many women each year are convicted of this same “crime”. Vásquez became the face of a Salvadorian movement for the human rights of women in the country. Viewers get to hear her own story in her own words, and the impact of living as an incarcerated person for so many years.
Escher so effectively uses real footage and heartbreaking interviews, combined with beautiful animation that so compellingly emphasizes the trauma that Vásquez and so many other women in El Salvador have experienced. The animation was completed by Roland Seer and Louisa Wallström. What makes the animation so compelling is that the audience has to hear the first hand accounts of women in this situation while watching an animated version play out on the screen.
Vásquez is able to tell her story with an openness and honesty that can get lost when someone gains the amount of media attention that she has. Escher never shies away from showing the entire truth, including how the trauma has impacted all of the women portrayed. The very real impacts of being jailed for experiencing obstetric emergencies is shown not only in the women themselves, but their loved ones as well. Their families have had to live with a loved one behind bars with precious little recourse for justice.
Although Vásquez is the main focal point of Fly So Far, it’s clear that she is but one of so many examples of women who have been affected by El Salvador’s anti-abortion laws. The media dubbed them “The 17”, a small sample of women in jail for experiencing obstetric emergencies. Vásquez in particular became a reluctant activist, a woman knowing she did nothing wrong. The courage and sorority that these women show comes through the screen with every interview, and it’s sad to be confronted with the fact that this is so necessary. “The 17” becomes “The 17+” to capture the growing list of women faced with this situation.
Escher also poignantly and jarringly shifts between camera shots of gorgeous and lush wildlife, to the harsh colours and sounds of the city. Escher draws attention to the fact that human rights, including the reproductive rights discussed in this documentary are so inextricably linked to the climate crisis. The destruction of the planet cannot be disentangled from the destruction and systematic dismantling of reproductive rights.
Religious extremism was also on full display through the movie, and it was often so startling to hear rhetoric from politicians and religious leaders that was almost exactly word for word taken from leaders of America’s religious right-wing. Rather than provide commentary, Escher was so smart to let these anti-abortion crusaders speak in their own unvarnished words, and have their views on full display for the audience to make their own judgements.
While Fly So Far ends on a hopeful note that following Vásquez’s release, 11 other women also gained their freedom, we are also informed that as of the film’s conclusion, five more women were arrested and jailed and eighteen more women are specifically waiting for their own release. The audience is also given a stark reminder of the mortal danger pregnancy and childbirth still pose to women and girls the world over.
Fly So Far is more than a political commentary on a nation with some of the most restrictive and harshest laws towards reproductive rights. It’s a tribute to the human spirit, and the spirit of sisterhood that sustains women the world over. A challenging watch, Fly So Far is a must for anyone who considers themselves partners in the cause of justice.
We hope you enjoyed these Film reviews from this year’s Guelph Film Festival! Learn more at https://guelphfilmfestival.ca!