Vessel begins with a young doctor who lived by the sea, and an unlikely idea. Rebecca Gomperts, horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion law around the world, felt compelled to challenge this. Her method: to provide abortions on a ship in offshore waters.
Her project, Women on Waves, begins as flawed spectacle, a media frenzy, faced with governmental, religious, and military blockades. But with each setback comes a more refined mission, until Rebecca has the revelation that she can use new technologies to bypass law – and train women to give themselves safe abortions using WHO-sanctioned protocols with pills.
We witness the creation of an underground network of emboldened, informed activists, working at the cutting edge of global reproductive rights, who trust women to handle abortion themselves. Vessel is Rebecca’s story: one of a woman who heard and answered a calling, and transformed a wildly improbable idea into a global movement.
Vessel premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in 2014, winning the Audience Award for Documentary in Competition and a Special Jury Award for Political Courage. The film was released theatrically in New York, and went on to screen at over 230 festivals and community screenings worldwide. Additional awards include the inaugural Peter Wintonick Award from Sheffield DocFest, the Adrienne Shelly Excellence in Filmmaking Award, the Moving Mountains Honorable Mention from Mountainfilm in Telluride, the Calgary Underground Audience Choice Honorable Mention, and the SIMA Lens to Action Jury Award. Vessel is available on Netflix streaming in 30 countries, and across international video-on-demand platforms.
A Sovereignty Productions presentation, in association with Fork Films, Impact Partners, and Chicken and Egg Pictures.
Vessel was made possible with generous support from HIVOS, Mary Wohlford Foundation, Hope Foundation, NYSCA, Fledgling Fund, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Puffin Foundation, Mama Cash, Harnisch Foundation, Ipas, Grant Me the Wisdom Foundation, Diane and Adam Max, Lambrecht Family Foundation, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Dobkin Family Foundation, Compton Foundation, Neda Nobari Foundation, over 150 individual donors, an army of fabulous volunteers, and the fiscal sponsorship of Women Make Movies.
“A deeply moving portrait… powerfully impassioned.”
“An intriguing story passionately told, shot through and through with activist zeal”
"The Dawn of the Post Abortion Clinic"
"Vessel Inspires the Future Fight for Abortion Rights”
"How long until illegal abortion is the norm here, too?"
“How could we create a space in which the only permission a woman needs is her own?”
The Woman Who Sailed A Mobile Abortion Clinic Around The World
"Humanity will always search for spaces of freedom and privacy,' Rebecca Gomperts."
"Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Jezebel Shero of the Year."
“Meet the woman leading a D.I.Y. abortion revolution.”
"An Interview with the Activist Helping Women Have DIY Abortions"
"Almost too cinematic to be real."
"Vessel is much more than a documentary about abortion rights; it’s about the conviction, creativity, and sacrifice that goes into creating a movement."
“A powerful, knock-your-socks-off documentary that will strike fear in your hearts and remind you to get out and fight for what’s right!”
“Intense, emotional, and inspiring”
"Compelling and emotionally charged."
“Shows a big idea can become something even bigger”
“A nuanced, educational and powerful film about activism and its ability to change the world”
“Vessel tells an extraordinary tale that needs to be seen and discussed”
“Vessel” is a fascinating film, by turns happy and sad, optimistic and pessimistic and very moving throughout.
“Judging by the screaming “Bravos!” at Vessel’s premiere, the SXSW crowd was hungry for a commonsense documentary showing women taking back control of their own health care choices.”
"A fast-paced, heart-thumping adventure... a must see"
"Beautiful and heart-wrenching"
"Could a new film premiering at SXSW really change the Abortion Landscape in Texas?"
Rebecca Gomperts: ‘If men could get pregnant there wouldn’t be abortion laws’
"A fascinating film about freedom, freedom of expression, and human femininity; watching this movie will make you wipe away tears, stand up and think about how you too can make a difference."
"This is a vital film about true women warriors."
"The documentary is understated and beautiful, and we are left with a sense of hope... a poignant reminder of the power of both individual stories and collective support."
Women on Waves was founded in 2000 with the aim to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions by providing sexual health services, including early medical abortions (abortion with pills), on board a Dutch ship, outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal.
In the last 10 years Women on Waves has generated enormous public interest, and much controversy, with ship campaigns in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. The ship campaigns are conducted by invitation and in collaboration with local partner organizations, and are designed to add momentum to activist efforts already on the ground working to liberalize law.
Although legalization of abortion is important, medical abortion now gives women the possibility to take their lives into their own hands, regardless of the legality of abortion or the willingness of doctors. Ensuring that WHO-researched information about medical abortion is easily available to women can save women’s lives. Therefore, Women on Waves now focuses on helping women access information about medical abortion by distributing information through the internet, grassroots efforts on the ground, and by supporting the creation of safe abortion telephone hotlines in collaboration with partner organizations across South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
For more information, or if you need help, please visit www.womenonwaves.org
Interested in hosting a screening of Vessel? Nonprofits, student groups, activists and educators have hosted hundreds of screenings of Vessel around the world, using the screenings as events to raise awareness of and resources for their own work in reproductive rights and justice.
To host a screening or for any questions about hosting and acquiring public performance rights, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over 300 screenings have been booked worldwide! Check to see if there is an upcoming screening in your community HERE.
The ship awaits entry to Portugal
Rebecca and the Irish press
The ship arrives in Spain
Ecuadorian activists publicize the hotline
Cecilia and Paula answer the hotline
Rebecca on the ship
Volunteers and women on the ship
the Women on Waves ship
Rebecca Gomperts lands the ship in Valencia, Spain
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