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Doc/Fest: Vessel | The Clapper Bored

Doc/Fest: Vessel

Diana Whitten’s documentary follows the efforts of Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch doctor, to provide safe abortions to women in countries where such procedures are still illegal. To do this, Gomperts sets sail in the titular vessel (a clever pun) and sails women out into international waters, where she can provide abortions safely according to Dutch law. All, however, is not smooth sailing…

Films that have a clear activist agenda are often undermined, to a degree, by it. But even though Vessel has a dog in the ‘Women on Waves’ fight (and makes no protestations otherwise) Whitten skilfully avoids condemning or humiliating pro-life activists. Instead, she concerns herself almost entirely with the plight of the women who are desperate enough to seek out an abortion in this manner. Yes, the ‘Women on Waves’ team come across people – in Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Ecuador – who fight, tooth and nail, to avoid the ship getting to the women, but this is defiantly not their story. Instead, Whitten narrows the focus, primarily to the single-minded superwoman Rebecca Gomperts and her crusade, around the world, to provide safe abortions.

The film begins to feel a little repetitious by the time the ship pulls up in Valencia to be greeted by protestors, but the message still comes across clearly. Intelligently made and with a compelling (if not entirely accessible) protagonist, Vessel sets out to chart a literal and metaphorical journey and manages this with aplomb.

Title: Vessel
Director: Diana Whitten
Running time : About 90 mins but feels longer

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