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Desert Flower is based on the true story of supermodel Waris Dirie, who was born in rural Somalia but fled at age 13 before her family could force her into an arranged marriage. After days walking through the desert to Somalia’s capital, relatives helped her escape to London where she worked as a maid in the Somalian embassy. When war broke in Somalia and the embassy was set to close, she began working at a fast-food restaurant, where she was discovered by famed photographer Terry Donaldson.  Lest you believe this is just another rags-to-riches tale, the film rather bravely introduces the pervasive practice of female genital mutilation, a secret Dirie reveals to a reporter soon after her rise to fame.  What is most successful about this film is director Sherry Horman‘s ability to weave this undesirable topic into an appealing and familiar narrative in a way that neither sugarcoats the issue nor makes it impossible to swallow. With sophisticated production values, sharp editing and script, and a talented (albeit unknown) cast, this film is a joy.

Desert Flower screens tonight at 7 p.m. at the National Geographic Museum as part of the All Roads Film Festival. Tickets are $8 for National Geographic Society members, Seniors and Students. General admission is $10.