Small Small Thing: The Olivia Zinnah Story

In December 2012, Olivia Zinnah died of complications from a rape injury caused when she was seven years old. This is her story.

This film begins at the JFK Hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, when Olivia Zinnah is nine years old. She is severely malnourished and handicapped, and her condition is life-threatening. Believing her injuries to be the result of witchcraft, Olivia's mother had been hiding her for years out of shame.

The doctors at the hospital conclude that her condition is the result of a brutal rape that took place when she was seven. When pressured to reveal the name of her rapist, Olivia names her cousin.
This diagnosis has severe consequences. Olivia and her mother are shunned by their tribe for seeking outside help. They are left stranded in Monrovia at the mercy of the government.

Filmmaker Jessica Vale was originally directing a different documentary in Monrovia, and when that was put on hold she stayed on, and met Olivia and her mother. Her involvement quickly became personal, and her quest to film them became a mission of hope and medical help in a country where rape is the number one crime, and the majority of the victims are children.

  • Jessica Vale
    Director
  • Jessica Vale
    Writer
  • Nika Offenbac
    Producer
  • Jessica Vale
    Producer
    LIV
  • Barnie Jones
    Producer
  • Leymah Gbowee
    Key Cast
    Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  • Olivia Zinnah
    Key Cast
  • Dr Wilhelmina Jallah
    Key Cast
  • Barnie Jones
    Key Cast
    Murder in the Cassava Patch
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 24 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 1, 2014
  • Production Budget:
    250,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Liberia
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • On Screen - In Person Tour 2015: MidAtlantic Arts Association
    MidAtlantic states, US
    October 12, 2015
  • One World Media Awards 2015
    United Kingdom
    winner announced June 18
    Finalist "Women's Rights in Africa"
  • Taiwan Ethnographic Film Festival
    Taiwan, China
    October 1, 2015
    Taiwan Premiere
  • Nevada Women's Film Festival
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    March 14, 2015
    Nevada premiere
    Best Documentary
  • Pan African Film Festival
    Los Angeles CA
    February 20, 2014
    CA premiere
    Special Jury Prize
  • Rated SR - Socially Relevant Film Festival
    New York, NY
    March 21, 2014
    New York premiere
    Grand Jury Prize, Women Film Critics Circle Award, Vanya Exerjian Award for Empowering Women
  • Bronze Lens Film Festival
    Atlanta GA
    November 7, 2013
    Georgia premiere
    Best International Documentary
  • Luxor African Film Festival
    Luxor Egypt
    March 20, 2014
    Egypt premiere
  • Port Jefferson Documentary series
    Port Jefferson, NY
    October 6, 2014
  • Pan African Film Festival Atlanta
    Atlanta GA
    August 7, 2014
  • POWfest
    Portand OR
    March 7, 2014
    Oregon premiere
  • Warsaw Intl Film Festival
    Warsaw Poland
    October 18, 2013
    European Premiere
  • SAGA Stockholm Women's Film Festival
    Stockholm Sweden
    August 23, 2014
    Sweden premiere
  • Waterfront Film Festival
    South Haven, MI
    June 7, 2014
    Michigan premiere
  • Baghdad Intl Film Festival
    Baghdad Iraq
    October 15, 2013
    Middle East premiere
    Best Human Rights Film
  • Montreal Intl Black Film Festival
    Montreal Canada
    September 18, 2013
    Canada premiere
    Best Documentary
  • Toronto Intl Black Film Festival
    Toronto Canada
    February 8, 2014
    Toronto premiere
  • Kansas Intl Film Festival
    Kansas City, MS
    October 10, 2013
    Best Documentary
  • First Glance Film Festival
    Philadelphia PA
    September 21, 2013
    Best Documentary
  • Twin Cities Black Film festival
    St Paul, MN
    September 28, 2013
    Minnesota premiere
  • Tri Continental Human Rights Film Festival
    South Africa
    September 14, 2013
    African premiere
  • Balinale
    Bali, Indonesia
    October 4, 2013
    Indonesia premiere
  • Encounters Film Festival
    South Africa
    July 10, 2013
    Filmmakers Against Women Abuse special section
  • Palm Beach Intl Film Festival
    Palm Beach, FL
    April 9, 2013
    Florida premiere
  • Dallas Intl Film Festival
    Dallas TX
    April 8, 2013
    World premiere
    Honorable mention Best Documentary
Director Biography - Jessica Vale

Jessica Vale is an accomplished non-fiction television producer and editor. Originally from New Hope, Pennsylvania, Jess graduated from the film program at Temple University. Her credits include work for NBC News, CBS News, National Geographic, History Channel, The Weinstein Co., and more. She is member of the NYC chapter of Film Fatales.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

I first met Olivia Zinnah in January 2009 at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. I was there filming another documentary with US doctors on a medical mission. Olivia arrived in grave condition and was immediately put in the care of the US team. I began filming on the spot. The first time you meet Olivia in the film was the first time I met her.

Olivia had been raped at age seven and left with brutal injuries that her village diagnosed as witchcraft. For two years she was hidden away in a small hut, never treated for the injuries or infection running rampant. The American doctors moved quickly, giving her a colostomy bag and saving her life. They returned to New York leaving strict instructions: "No more surgery on Olivia until she is 16."

Weeks later, her story made its way to the United Nations and the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She was quickly made a poster child for gender-based violence campaigns. More operations were carried out to "fix" Olivia, with many of them featured in the Liberian press.

Olivia's story is not an isolated case. Despite having the first female president in Africa, gender-based violence is rampant in Liberia, with most victims being children. We met many of these girls while making the film.

In September 2012, I completed Small Small Thing with the help of producer Nika Offenbac. Shortly after, we received word that Olivia was in school and doing well but that her colostomy had been reversed, against doctors' orders. Just three months later, Olivia Zinnah (aged 12) suddenly died from a bowel obstruction. To add insult to injury, the World Health Organisation had just approved a visa to give her passage to the US.

Her death made headlines both in Liberia and abroad. We were left shocked and heartbroken but with new passion to get Olivia's story out into the world. We went back to the edit room, changed the ending to the film, and partnered with various NGOs fighting gender-based violence.

Olivia was a beautiful little girl, full of hope and laughter, despite having lived most of her life in a hospital with a colostomy bag.

With the release of Small Small Thing, we have shed light on yet another country with an epidemic of gender-based violence. Thanks to mounting pressure, President Johnson-Sirleaf launched a new anti-rape campaign in May 2013 and publically acknowledged Olivia's death. But there is still much to do.

The heartbreak may never entirely heal, but we can use Small Small Thing to keep her story alive.