MTV Documentary Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hogir Hirori
Writer: Hogir Hirori, based on an idea by Lorin Ibrahim
Cast: Mahmud, Ziyad, Siham, Zahra, Suleiman, Shadi, Leila, Mitra
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/27/21
Opens: July 30, 2021

You don’t have to be a Trumpite to get the impression that the vistas covered by this brave documentary are shitholes. In the desperate, unbelievable politics that is the Middle East today, slavery is alive. Women are captured by Daesh (we call them members of ISIS or the Islamic State), and are married as early as seven (read: “raped”) by ISIS men. Some are sold in the market for a little as twenty dollars and, what the film does not note, Facebook is sometimes used to advertise the business.

For those of us who cut class during a particular geography lesson, Kurdistan is an autonomous province stretching from Iraq to Syria to Turkey, agroup that demands the status of independent country just like Palestine. Kurdistan-born Hogir Hirori, known for documentaries including “The Diminer,” which is a portrait of a Kurdish colonel who disarmed thousands of roadside bombs, this time evokes the brutality of ISIS, a group that even al-Queda criticizes as too extreme. In one spectacular scene Hirori captures an entire village that ISIS followers burned down after escaping from prison.

The group justifies slavery by stating that the Yazidis, a minority religion in Kurdistan, are not Muslim. A major point not brought out in “Sabaya” (the word means “sex slave”) is that some women from the West joined the men in ISIS and had a hand in torturing the captive Yazidis, even ordering them to take showers and put on fresh clothes and make-up before joining the men who will rape them.

The film, based on an idea by Lorin Ibrahim (who I believe is married to the director), centers on Mahmud, who, if projected on an American newscast or interview show would be considered a hero. A would-be social worker par excellence, Mahmud, gun newly loaded and in his holster, searches for ISIS captive women, even sending brave women who had escaped from their “husbands” to infiltrate the Al-Hol camp which is filled with both Daesh and sex traffickers. Before reuniting them with their families in Iraq, he takes the freed women over the border to his home in Syria’s Kurdistan province where his wife, mother and two sons live. There the family goes through the process of deprogramming them, if you will, assuring them that they need not fear. Once they are back in Iraq, some fear that the children they had during the five years of imprisonment will be rejected by their families.

This is not the kind of documentary that sets up an interviewer, who summarizes points made by the characters. Instead Hirori, who is behind the camera as well as in the director’s chair, remains invisible to us in our theater seats.

Destroying the bad guys takes patience, and we in the U.S. may cheer that ISIS has been eliminated in Syria by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces. Whether such victories should make us optimistic about handling the Taliban in Afghanistan is another story.

91 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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