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Review: Period. End of Sentence. is a so-so doc, necessary conversation starter

Director    Rayka Zehtabchi
Release    12 FEB (US) 12 FEB (UK)
Review: Period. End of Sentence. is a so-so doc, necessary conversation starter Movie Review


Grade C+

Luke Whiston

1st March 2019

It's sometimes fun to imagine what aliens would make of our planet. What would they think of the huge green mass on the left committing a gross act of spiritual harm by putting a smaller orange mass in charge, for instance? Or the ones wearing bowler hats destroying their economy just because the neighbours are into Eurotrance? Madness. And pogs - what the fuck?! But probably the strangest thing to them would be seeing half the planet's population bleeding from their reproductive organs once a month as part of an essential species-prolonging biological function, and the other half going "ewww!" and repressing them since the beginning of time.

Progress is change. You'd think with the knowledge we have about processors and magnets and stuff we'd have solved all the world's problems by now. We could do it today if we wanted to. But as history has proven, for every step forward as a species there are those who stubbornly refuse to lift a toe - whether for political or religious reasons, or they have their own agenda, or simply because they like things the way they are. These gatekeepers are invariably men, meaning women and women's needs have always taken a backseat.

Leaps in technology usually go hand-in-hand with progress. Arguably humankind's greatest invention is the internet, which ushered in an age of instant global communication almost overnight. It was a novelty for a bit - sharing cat gifs and watching Australians poke big spiders - but then something radical happened: ordinary people found themselves cast as citizen journalists, able to document racial profiling and war crimes and big spiders in real-time. For the first time in history the individual could provide undeniable proof to the world of transgressions against them, finding allies and sympathetic ears, and tipping the balance of power at the press of a button. Suddenly everyone had a platform.

"Smile, it'll make you - oh you are. Carry on."

Arriving at a kind of intersectional inflection point, a group of women in a small village in India tired of the taboo surrounding menstruation have harnessed technology to raise awareness of the problems they face daily. Poor health is the norm for these women, who cannot broach the subject of periods with the menfolk in their community because of the stigma surrounding it - the "ick" factor, as one Oscar judge was alleged to have said, before presumably dismissing his man-servant and crumbling into dust - finding themselves falling behind in schools, and even unable to carry out the worship required of their faith.

To take a stance the women in the village had a machine installed - paid for via Kickstarter - so they could make their own sanitary pads, thereby improving the situation and providing some normality. From here they started selling pads and travelling from village to village, educating people and breaking down barriers. Documenting this is Rayka Zehtabchi, who doesn't focus on finger-pointing so much as on letting the story tell itself. Consequently most of the footage is candid discussions with locals they meet along the way, highlighting misconceptions and plain ignorance. There's no real drama to hang on, and the people we follow aren't larger-than-life personalities. It's not quirky or offbeat, but there is a sense of humour to proceedings - although maybe this is bemusement as a defence mechanism.

Soon to be remade with Scarlett Johansson

Despite these shortcomings, Period. End of Sentence. was this week awarded the Oscar for Best Short Documentary, which is a bit of a headscratcher unless you believe The Academy took a deliberate political stance. Some may find the notion troubling, but when a worthwhile cause comes along that could change the lives of millions of people, what's the point of having a platform - in this case literally a global stage - unless you're going to use it?

As an aside; while I'm piecing this review together from rambling notes in a Gregg's in Essex, an elderly man has sat down next to me and joked "I can watch you work". I'm tempted to show him my browser, which has the Wikipedia page for menstruation open because I wanted to write respectfully about women's bodies without making a tit of myself. It's telling that I'm reluctant to do so because it would make both of us uncomfortable - neatly underlining the work of Zehtabchi and her subjects.

The reality is that despite all the technology and education we have here in the West - the so-called 'first world' - it's all too easy to fall into old trappings. But we'll get there so long as people keep speaking up. More troubling are those born into these enlightened times who would prefer to sweep such perceived liberal ideas under the carpet. And they're not hard to find - just log in to Twitter. Clearly some people need a good talking to. Period. End of Sentence. may be a fairly flimsy documentary that never lives up to that puntastic title, but what it does do is serve as a necessary conversation starter.

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