Back2Back Productions founder David Notman-Watt first began his work on what is to become Ethiopia: Selamarit’s Story back in 2002, and now he is preparing his return to finish what he feels he started.
Upon his first visit, Notman-Watt filmed footage of the circumcision of Selamarit, an eight-year-old girl from the village of Offa Gendeba. The shocking, powerful material was shown on CNN and shortlisted for a Rory Peck Award in 2003.
‘The footage of Selamarit undergoing her enforced circumcision has never left me,’ says David Notman-Watt, principle at indie prodco Back2back. He is now preparing to go back to see where Selamarit’s story has gone since he left the continent. ‘I always knew I wanted to go back to find this little girl, and her story has grown in significance for me over the years.’
Notman-Watt says that the involvement of UNICEF has been instrumental in making Ethiopia possible, both for the original footage and for his return. He credits UNICEF with enabling himself and his Ethiopian-based producer, Jasleen Sethi, to visit Selamarit’s village and enlist the cooperation of its elders.
‘Filming in Ethiopia is not easy, but with UNICEF’s support and backing we were able to get to the village of Offa Gendeba to film what we did,’ Notman-Watt said. ‘As I was working alone in 2002 the pressure of convincing the villagers of the value of allowing me to film the circumcision was taken off my shoulders. UNICEF did that for me.’
Notman-Watt explained that UNICEF’s personnel knew the area well so that he could safely travel to Offa Gendeba, and although they have already found Selamarit again, he prefers not to know any current details about her.
‘I purposefully do not want to know what I am going to find when I get there,’ he said. ‘I also do not want to know where she is – the journey to find her is as important as her current predicament in my opinion.’
While Notman-Watt says he was disturbed by his experience last time, he maintains that he is not returning to combat the practice of female circumcision. Rather, he intends to explore the effect that the rite has had upon Selamarit seven years later.
‘Finding this little girl as she turns fifteen, an adult in the tribal culture she inhabits, is something I feel needs to be done,’ he said. ‘Witnessing such an act and recording it on film as I did begs for the story to be completed. It can only be completed if I go back, and find out what she thinks about what was done to her now that she is a woman. How has it affected her? If she is a mother will she do it to her own children?’