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The Shape of Water (2006)

THE SHAPE OF WATER (narrator: Susan Sarandon) Interweaves the intimate and powerful stories of Khady, Oraiza, Bilkusben, Dona Antonia, Gila - living in Senegal, Brazil, India, and Jerusalem... See full summary »

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THE SHAPE OF WATER (narrator: Susan Sarandon) Interweaves the intimate and powerful stories of Khady, Oraiza, Bilkusben, Dona Antonia, Gila - living in Senegal, Brazil, India, and Jerusalem. The women abandon female genital mutilation, tap for rubber to protect the rain forest, protect the biodiversity of the planet and oppose military occupations. This film offers a unique view of the complex realities of the women and their passions to create a more just world. Written by Kum-Kum Bhavnani

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6 February 2006 (USA)  »

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$150,000 (estimated)
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1.33 : 1
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Social justice documentary featuring five women in developing nations who stand up for their rights
18 December 2007 | by See all my reviews

"In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it." -Lao-Tzu "The Shape of Water" is an award-winning documentary by an academian cultural critic concerned with social justice, Kum-Kum Bhavnani, who felt the urgent need to share with general audiences powerful stories of women in developing nations making big differences. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, it presents five women in diverse cultures who have been involved in important change.

In Brazil's rainforest, we meet tappers of rubber, a renewable resource. Their way of life, and their life itself, is threatened by ranchers who, backed by police, cut down trees. Women organize, fight violence with patriotic songs and civil disobedience, and stand up for their livelihood and environmental sustainability.

In Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish protesters in the Women in Black movement are introduced who have worked for years holding vigils in support of Palestinian rights. Moving to Africa, there is an exploration of brave Senegalese women who use reason, compassion, hip hop music, street theatre, education, and pressure on government agencies to stop ancient traditions of female genital mutilation.

Several important stories about destruction of the environment and uprooting of people in India is presented. Featured prominently is Vandana Shiva, physicist turned ecofeminist, globalization critic, and environmental activist. She has received numerous honors on behalf of helping many marginalized people, often women, to find their voices and nonviolently express their strength in demanding justice.

Women have in many cultures been seed keepers, preserving the agricultural backbone of society. The film presents Navdanya, a farm in the Himalayan foothills where women are active seed catalogers and preservers, focused on biodiversity.

Perhaps the most interesting story for me is that of the SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association; Hindi for "service") cooperative. A trade union established in 1972, it has become the largest organization of poor self-employed women in India, having over 700,000 members. It helps women combat illiteracy and fosters communal unity, in addition to giving women tools for business success, such as microcredit.

It was inspiring to see the Gandhian social ideals enacted by the bahen (" sisters") SEWA members, each mutually respectful to the other and all starting their workdays with prayers of different religious traditions. The film describes two women in Ahmedabad whose lives changed when their businesses were given chances to succeed through the help of SEWA; a vegetable saleswoman who faced harassment, including police violence and theft of goods, is featured, as well as a kite-maker who could ramp up quality and quantity of her wares for the annual Gujarati January kite festival.

Each of these stories reminded me of Margaret Mead's words, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Rather than portray the disadvantaged as victims, Kum-Kum Bhavnani shows how they can adroitly and patiently refuse to allow unjust practices to continue, challenging tradition yet building upon it at the same time, to create social justice solutions that in a fundamental way actually reflects the cultural and historical milieu.

"The Shape of Water" was one of a select few films that has toured as part of the United Nations Film Festival and has won a number of awards, such as Best Director, Documentary at the San Francisco Women's Film Festival, and Best Documentary at the Women's International Film Festival, Miami. Kum-Kum Bhavnani is using sales of the DVD, her first film, to send over a hundred copies to grassroots organizations in developing nations.


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