Hormann’s Desert Flower blooms on Lido
by Natasha Senjanovic
06/09/2009 - A long standing ovation and tears followed the official screening of Sherry Hormann’s Desert Flower [trailer], a crowd-pleaser with a very important and timely message. The film tells the incredible life story of Waris Dirie, a Somali nomad who at age 13 crossed the desert on foot to Mogadishu, ultimately escaping to London. Illiterate, she worked modest jobs and learned English before a twist of fate led to a career as a top model. A decade later, she changed lives again, to begin a tireless fight as a UN ambassador against female genital mutilation [FGM], to which she was subjected at the age of three.
Hormann knew little about Dirie when a producer suggested she read her best-selling book, and was immediately moved and shocked. When the two women finally met, the director told the Q&A audience that Dirie made her promise two things: “One was to show the scene when the girl is mutilated, and the second was that she wanted humour, because a film must be about life, not just suffering.”
The filmmaker did just that, blending drama and comedy, alternating between laughter and much food for thought on a horrifying subject. According to Hormann, cinematographer Ken Kelsch, who has lensed many Abel Ferrara films even, admitted that filming the mutilation scene was his darkest hour, professionally.
In fact, viewers were overwhelmed by the young girls’ cries in the scene. Afterwards, one woman in the audience tried to speak about how deeply the film touched her, but choked up. When Dirie walked over to embrace her, even more tears were shed. However, like Dirie herself, the film is full of hope and brighter prospects for the future.
For Dirie, the problem of FGM, or infibulation, is not generational but educational. Younger Africans have not ceased performing the practice, nor have African immigrants in the West. (In New York, for example, there are 40,000 mutilated women.) The key then is to spread awareness, precisely the motivating force behind the Waris Dirie Foundation and, created this year, the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights.
Desert Flower stars Ethiopian model-actress Liya Kebede and covers Dirie’s life up to the point when she decides to start sharing her painful secret, of FGM, with the world. The supporting actors are some of England’s finest: Sally Hawkins plays Marylin, Dirie’s first friend in England; Timothy Spall the photographer who discovered her; and Juliet Stevenson the modelling agent who groomed her career.