Human Rights Film Festival: Little Heaven
Aware of the manipulation a skilfully edited documentary can have upon an audience, Little Heaven initially caused concern in the nimble reveal of its subject matter: HIV positive children living in an orphanage in Ethiopia.
It instantly churns worry and strife in stomachs; the delicate ground being covered could so very easily slide into an avalanche of mawkish, condescending and idiotic sentimentality. It was with much relief that a short way into Lieven Corthouts’ documentary, it became evident that the film was thankfully by far greater than those incendiary components.
Lydia is told on her thirteenth birthday she was born, as all the other children in the orphanage, hosting the HIV virus. Bursting into tears, the crash landing into the reality of this conversation shakes Lydia, but although instantly served to swallow, it isn’t dwelt upon, coming across as more of an empathetic bridge that she (and the audience) must cross. Lydia, now a teenager, is presented with the possibility of a future in which she has to carve out new friendships, study hard and learn to comprehend her illness – All to create a future for herself.
There is a clear through line in Little Heaven; the intentional humanising of the children along with the functional aspects of spreading the word about the availability of medicine, are shown with an honest transparency, both of which are matched by the director’s commitment and vision to his film. Corthouts spent a number of years with the children, building relationships and gaining trust. As a result, the footage captured in the orphanage is as relaxed and natural as it could be, although it appears occasionally a touch too fluid, raising a questioning eyebrow to possibilities of scripting. Yet further contemplation of this becomes overturned through the very smart editing and shuffling of narratives, which maybe work against the film a touch, making it feel a little too slick at points.
The satisfaction of watching a documentary about such moribund topics being dealt with in such a positive fashion, felt like an invigorating and fresh trajectory. There isn’t a bombardment of bleak images here, rather a humane depiction of the children and their growing pains, both common and unique, which amass into an uplifting and spirited film – Highly recommended.
Watch the trailer for Little Heaven here: