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During work on a documentary about foreign doctors at Liberia’s ramshackle John F. Kennedy Hospital, another story caught the attention of Small Small Thing writer-director Jessica Vale: a nine-year-old girl, emaciated and steeped in her own feces because of damage to her genitals and gastrointestinal system caused by a rape.
Vale is an efficient journalist, packing in facts and riveting interviews about the legacy of Liberia’s wars, the leftover brutality of its enlistment of child warriors, now grown to live their own fractured lives, and a portrait of Olivia and those who tried to care for her.
Olivia’s mother is trapped. In the bush, her family’s leader denies her daughter’s rape happened, yet she’s comfortable there. Life in Monrovia is daunting, despite the many people, including law enforcement and hospital workers, trying to help. Vale gives us the opportunity to meet the Liberian doctors, safehouse case workers, and others, mostly women, who manage to give Olivia reasons to eat, study, and smile, despite their almost total lack of resources.
There are many reasons to see this very difficult film, not least to face the grim realities in Liberia, and to wonder what more could be done to save lives and preserve the human spirit when it is so clearly yearning to burn bright given any small small chance.