IDFA ’14: Guardian preps FGM documentary

As part of a drive into "more serious long- and short-form" documentaries, UK newspaper The Guardian is to examine the practice of female genital mutilation in feature doc The Imam's Daughter. (Pictured: activist Jaha Dukureh)
November 25, 2014

As part of a drive into “more serious long- and short-form” documentaries, UK newspaper The Guardian is to examine the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in feature doc The Imam’s Daughter.

The project was presented to international commissioners during the IDFA Forum’s central pitch session on Monday (November 24) by the outlet’s multimedia investigations editor Maggie O’Kane and the doc’s director Patrick Farrelly.

O’Kane told realscreen that the film – which began shooting this past May – is part of The Guardian’s global media campaign around FGM, and also represents an increased push into more feature-length and short-form doc content by Guardian Docs, which was previously called Guardian Films.

The outlet - which is growing its video team – appointed former Sheffield Doc/Fest deputy director Charlie Phillips as head of documentaries in September. Though the exec did not commission The Imam’s Daughter, O’Kane says Phillips is presently at IDFA with a focus on short-form acquisitions.

The project centers on 24-year-old FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh (pictured above) and her goal of raising awareness about the cultural practice, which is common in her home country of Gambia. Dukureh – who was subjected to FGM as a baby – was wed to a 45-year-old man at the age of 15 and brought to the U.S., where she needed to undergo painful surgery to re-open her vagina and consummate the marriage.

Though she later remarried and relocated to Atlanta, Dukureh has begun campaigning to put FGM on the radar in the U.S. – where the Obama administration has taken action as a result of her petition – and to end the practice in Gambia, where it is estimated that as high a percentage as 80% of women are cut.

The film – which has only secured financing from Guardian Docs thus far - has a production budget of €398,000 (US $494,934) and still requires €288,000. It is scheduled to finish shooting next May, with a release set for September.

A trailer for the film was met with a positive response from the majority of commissioners, with Nick Fraser of the BBC’s doc strand ‘Storyville’ saying there were “lots of places at the BBC where it should belong,” and Ingemar Persson, commissioning editor for Sweden’s SVT, also showing interest in the project.

Meanwhile, Mette Hoffmann Meyer - commissioning editor for Denmark’s DR TV – said the broadcaster has done a few films about FGM and could see how this doc would “add to the others.” She raised questions, however, about having a male director helm a project on such a sensitive issue for women.

“The relationship that Jaha and Patrick have developed is extraordinary,” responded O’Kane. “Whenever something goes wrong – she’s exhausted, or she has malaria – she talks to Patrick. It’s a supportive relationship.”

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