He wasn’t supposed to be there. The soap guy was late. And that turned out to be extremely important.
By Emily Clark (Wicked Local Plymout) |
He wasn’t supposed to be there.
Dr. Rick Hodes was going to buy soap from the man he always buys soap from in the Ethiopian city of Gondar.
The soap guy was late.
And that turned out to be extremely important.
Camerawoman Melissa Donovan, hired to shoot B-roll footage of Hodes for a film project, trained her lens on the doctor, who waited in the coffee shop for the man and the soap until both finally appeared. Hodes bought the guy something to eat and announced he was going to cross the street to check his email at a location with a computer. Donovan followed.
As they walked along the sunlit street, they spotted a small girl and a man walking toward them with tears in their eyes. Hodes didn’t have to look twice at the girl to notice her condition.
“You have a bad back,” he said.
What happened after that would encompass an odyssey of hope where none had been and a film that changed lives.
Zemene Tiget did have a bad back. Hodes learned that she was born with dwarfism and kyphosis, a severe curvature of the spine that would eventually kill her if she didn’t get corrective surgery. Her mother had died trying to save her and her father had abandoned her because of her handicaps.
Armed with donations from their tiny village, her uncle Menormelkam, had taken her to the clinic in Gondar where doctors had just informed them that they couldn’t help her, that he should return with her to their village, Bellessa, and make her as comfortable as possible.
They were words for a dying person, and Zemene and her uncle were devastated.
Hodes listened while Donovan filmed, astounded by the encounter.
“I was just so taken by this little girl that looked so fragile and had this incredible light coming from her,” Donovan said. “My camera was drawn to her as was my heart. She took my hand and I held her hand with the camera in the other. That was the moment my heart really got taken. I thought if I could shoot footage of her, maybe I could help her.”
Hodes, an American internist and spinal specialist helping the needy in Ethiopia, told Zemene and her uncle that if they could find a way to get to the capital city, he would help her.
Thus begins the story Donovan unfolds in her first documentary film “Zemene,” which will be screened at Plimoth Cinema at Plimoth Plantation at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. A question and answer session with Zemene and her uncle will follow the screening, and Donovan will discuss this incredible story of love and hope. “Zemene” has garnered seven film festival awards, including best documentary, best cinematography and best editing at the Boston Film Festival.
The strange thing is Donovan never intended to film a movie of her own.
She is a camerawoman who grew up in Weston and spent summers in Manomet, where her mother still lives. Donovan’s work assignments have taken her around the world, and, stranger still, her film project with Hodes fizzled and she was left with hours of footage of Zemene and this story. She asked if she could keep the footage and do something with it and was given the go-ahead. But doing something with it involved finding enough capital and a producer.
Donovan found neither.
In the end, it was up to her to tell this story. So the camerawoman became the producer and director, pouring over and editing 200 hours of film she took over the course of years as she followed Zemene and watched her life unfold. The little 10-year-old girl she met on the streets of Gondar went on to become a leader who is now transforming the lives of the people of Bellessa and children suffering from similar afflictions.
The viewer is struck by the power of Hodes’ kindness and the spiritual light of Zemene, whose angelic presence lights up the film. But viewers are also captivated by the selfless filmmaker behind the lens.
Donovan is the reason the story gets told, reminding the viewer that making a sacrifice for good can have sweeping and wonderful consequences.
“I did have to sacrifice,” Donovan said. “I kept wondering how am I going to pay for this and all those other scary things that define how we go through day to day and spend our time. I just let all that go. There was a bigger cause. I look back and I see that all those things in the moment that seemed insurmountable and how everything came together when it was absolutely necessary. I never set out to make a film.”
Today, Zemene is like her daughter, Donovan said. She’s trying to her get into school here and is hoping to find the funds to pay for it. The orphaned girl with the soulful eyes who held her hand on that street in Gondar is continuing to change her life.
It was like Zemene chose her.
“The message a lot of people take away is that everyone has a purpose and everyone can make a difference in somebody else’s life,” Donovan said. “You never know where that’s going to lead and it’s amazing how many good things can come out of something you do.”
Tickets cost $10 for non-members and $8 for Plimoth Plantation members, seniors and college students, and are available at plimoth.org. Just search for Plimoth Cinema and its shows.
Plimoth Cinema is located at Plimoth Plantation at 137 Warren Ave. in Plymouth.
Source: Wicked Local Plymouth
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