In an acclaimed documentary about the rescue of women and girls sexually enslaved by ISIS, a tense scene takes place in a detention camp in Syria, and later in a safe home where victims face painful choices. It will be unfolded.
The Swedish film “Sabaya” won the prestigious Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director of Foreign Documentaries this year and held a Human Rights Film Festival in Berlin last week. Critics gave it an ardent review. The actual scene of a car chase or rescue attempt is as dramatic as a fictional thriller.
But the film upset some of the people who intended to celebrate. A minority woman in Iraq’s Yazidi, who has been sexually enslaved for years by Islamic State terrorist groups and has become a major subject. They and their supporters say that deciding whether to use images violates the rights of women who have already been denied control of virtually every life.
Three of the documentary Yazid women were told by the New York Times that they didn’t understand what film director Hogil Hirori was going to do with the film, or that they couldn’t access the film in Iraq or Syria. The fourth said he knew he was making a movie but didn’t want to appear in the movie. Kurdish and Swedish doctors who helped the Yazid woman also revealed that she didn’t want to appear in the documentary.
“I told them I didn’t want to be filmed,” said one of the Yazid women. “It’s not good for me. It’s dangerous.”
Their objections raised questions about what constitutes informed consent by traumatic survivors and the various criteria that apply to documentary subjects in Western countries.
Hirori, a Swedish citizen and former Iraqi Kurdistan refugee, made several films in 2019 and 2020 for almost two years and visited Syria and Iraq several times. He said he had obtained verbal, written, or cinematic consent from all documentary-identifiable women.
Experienced filmmaker Hirori told the Times that he initially recorded verbal consent from a woman while staying in the same safe home in Syria after being rescued in 2019. .. He said he intended to have them sign a written release on a subsequent trip to the area, but was delayed due to a coronavirus pandemic and “physically mailed” the form.
The women said they received the consent form, but in English, a language they could not understand electronically. The forms came almost two years after he filmed them and the film was shown.
The form the Times saw was named Hirori and producer Antonio Russo Melenda, and was added after the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. They sought consent retroactively.
If the woman did not give written consent, Hirori said she used the image of the woman with her face blurred. However, the slightly blurry features of some women are still recognizable in the film.
“Some people changed their minds,” he spoke in Swedish through an interpreter, talking about the issue of consent.
The film unfolds in the aftermath of some ISIS acquisitions in Syria and Iraq and the 2014 massacre campaign against Yazidism. Fighters killed an estimated 3,000 Yazids and captured about 6,000, including many sexually enslaved girls and women.
This documentary depicts two Yazid community leaders and guards rescuing a Yazid woman in a chaotic and dangerous Alhor detention camp in northeastern Syria.
After the collapse of ISIS in 2019, about 60,000 women and children from areas under the control of terrorist groups were packed into packed camps. They included hundreds of Yazidi women who were forced to live with a family of enslaved fighters, most of whom had been killed in combat by that time. rice field.
“These are people who were kidnapped at a very young age, detained as slaves, and sexually abused for five years,” said former US ambassador Peter Galbraith. I was robbed of them. The Yazid community in Iraq does not allow women to bring back their children, the fathers of ISIS fighters.
“I don’t know how they gave informed consent in such a situation,” Galbraith added.
One scene in the film shows Dr. Nemam Gahuri, a Swedish doctor who has helped Yazid women for years. She died in March after being infected with Covid-19, reuniting Yazid’s mother with her young children, the father of an ISIS fighter.
One of her sisters, Dr. Nazdar Gahuri, said she did after learning that the documentary was screened with her face. According to the text her sister gave to the Times, the filmmaker replied that there was no close-up of her.
The film touches on the highly condemned topic of ISIS fighters separating Yazid women from their fathered children.
Some women were willing to give up their children. However, some are still hiding in Alhol camps and elsewhere, knowing that if they want to return to their Iraqi family or community, they will be forced to give up their young children.
Several scenes in the film show a distraught young woman forced by Yazid leaders to leave her one-year-old son in Syria so that she can return to Iraq.
“I saw him filming, but I didn’t know what it was for,” the woman said. She said she wasn’t asked by the filmmaker to sign a consent release at any time thereafter.
All Yazidi women interviewed demanded anonymity. Some are still afraid of ISIS, while others are afraid of its impact within their conservative community.
The women rescued in the film are still in camps, safe homes, or other countries for refugee Iraqis. Swedish doctor sister Nazdar Ghafouri said she believes the film could endanger some of them and prevent them from continuing their lives.
Another Yazid woman who appeared in the documentary said she told her that Hirori was filming for her personal use. And another said she didn’t want to join Hirori from the beginning because the community leader portrayed as a hero lied to some women and took their children away from them. rice field.
One of the women said she was pressured by Yazidi authorities to sign a consent form, even though she didn’t understand what she was saying. This consent gives filmmakers permanent and broad rights to stories, images, voices and even women’s names.
Human Rights Watch considered “Sabaya” at its own film festival, but opposed it because of concerns about the subject.
“This movie gives us a lot of danger signals in connection with concerns that we could sacrifice victims,” said Retta Taylor, Deputy Director of the Group’s Crisis and Conflict Department. Says. “How can a woman who is trapped in a safe house without an easy way get consent?”
She said she was particularly worried about the close-up of the 7-year-old girl rescued in the movie. Hirori said she had obtained consent from the parents of an unnamed girl. However, her legal guardian told the Times that she had never been contacted for consent.
The treatment of “Sabaya” consent is in stark contrast to the common European and US practices in which films generally provide evidence that a release has been obtained to ensure insurance that protects against privacy claims. ..
The Swedish Film Institute, the main funder of the documentary, said it was up to the film producers to get consent and believed that the filmmakers did it.
“It’s not right that we can eat popcorn just because they’re far away …