Meet Alessandra Zeka, Director of 'A Quiet Inquisition' Doc on Abortion Rights in Nicaragua

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We’re outside the city of Managua. A doctor makes her way down the rural road in a formidable pickup truck into Nicaragua’s metropolis. A title slide preps the audience for what they’re about to see with her: Nicaragua is one of five countries in the world to ban all forms of abortion. The cost to women’s lives is innumerable and Dr. Carla Cerrato is on the frontline of this ideological battle everyday as a gynecologist. Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn’s A Quiet Inquisition takes a look at the doctors caught in-between

We spoke with Alessandra Zeka about filming Dr. Cerrato’s practice and what she thinks will happen next in Nicaragua.

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This is a story not really getting a lot of attention in Western media. What about Nicaragua’s situation compelled you to pick up a camera and start shooting?

I found out from an article in the New York Times called “Pro-Choice Nation.” The article was about El Salvador’s restrictions on abortions. We thought about going to El Salvador, but we realized once we were in El Salvador, people were reluctant to talk. Just mentioning the word would make people not want to talk to you. We couldn’t shoot in hospitals, and talking to people there was very hard. A friend of ours said to look at Nicaragua. It’s their neighbor and they might be more willing to talk to you. So we thought, okay, let’s see what’s going on in Nicaragua. It was an immediate change. People were outraged at what happened with the changes to the law. More people came to us and gave much more openly to the work we wanted to do. We got in touch with some women’s associations who were trying to talk about the changes from 2007 [when they imposed the abortion restrictions in Nicaragua]. I got in touch with a few doctors. We met this particular doctor, somebody open and hospitable, very low-key and would do her work while letting us do our work. We were finally getting somewhere; this was so much more than in El Salvador. When we went to Nicaragua, I wanted to do something from the point of view of the doctor and talk about the Hippocratic Oath versus the legislation and laws. We were very focused on the doctor from the get go.

How did you decide on Dr. Cerrato as your subject?

She really found us. She was really the one who gave us opportunity over and over again to come to talk to people Sometimes, she would call me and tell me, “Someone just arrived and they want to talk to you. It became really apparent that she was somebody much more opento doing anything to document what was happening in the hospital.

Was there ever a moment where situations became too difficult to film?

Oh yeah, especially when it comes to the lives of some of the younger girls. When you see 13 year-old girls tell these heartbreaking stories, and you happen to be there, capturing. You know from the get-go this might not make it into the movie. Those are some of the stories that happen in the hospitals of Nicaragua.

At one point we’re introduced to the story of Amalia, the pseudonym for Delma Rosa, whose doctors refused cancer treatment because it would jeopardize her pregnancy…

I’m so excited you mentioned her. Delma Rosa was a wonderful woman. I had the pleasure of meeting her three times, and she only did only interview, which is in the film. Her case to me, is exactly the problem of this new law. Somebody needed an abortion to live, and they said no. This is why therapeutic abortion is necessary.

What do you see for the future of women in Nicaragua?

I wish I knew how to answer that. I’m a little more bleak than I’d like to be after the last time I was there. People are still optimistic, but it’s going back to a very strange way because of the new religion of the government. I think there’s going to be a conservative wave.

What would you like to see your film accomplish?

I would like people to not just talk about abortion through the eyes of a lawyer, politician, or woman, but from the point of view from a doctor, who’s sworn to save the life of their patient and now, all of a sudden, this is causing the death of their patients. We’re trying to stay away from the polemics of what’s wrong or what’s right. You know, everyone says they’re right when it comes to abortion. Who am I to say otherwise? What grabbed us more than anything else, was the discomfort between the Hippocratic Oath and this new law.

A Quiet Inquisition is playing as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.