The filmmakers behind the documentary Sabaya refute a published report claiming they failed to secure consent from some of the victims of sexual slavery who appear in the award-winning film, about Yazidi women and girls seized by ISIS fighters in Iraq .
“Director Hogir Hirori and I have received written, verbal or filmed consent from everyone who appears in our film Sabaya (as well as the legal guardian of the young girl who is featured), ”insisted producer Antonio Russo Merenda in a statement obtained by Deadline. “Sabaya is a Swedish production under Swedish law and under Swedish law: written, verbal and filmed consents are also valid. Consent forms were provided in both Arabic (the official language in Syria and Iraq) and English.
The statement was released three days after a New York Times publication item, co-authored by the newspaper’s Baghdad bureau chief, appeared under the headline “Women enslaved by ISIS say they did not consent to film about them.” The article, citing Yazidi women who allegedly requested anonymity, reported: “Three of the Yazidi women in the documentary told the New York Times that they did not understand what the film’s director, Hogir Hirori, planned to do. with the images or was told that the film would not be available in Iraq or Syria. A fourth said she knew he was making a movie, but told him she didn’t want to be there.
Another anonymous Yazidi woman quoted in the Times article said: “I saw [Hirori] film, but I didn’t know what it was for. The article read: “She said she was never asked to sign a waiver of consent by the filmmakers afterwards.”
The award-winning documentary at festivals such as Sundance, True / False and Israel’s DocAviv describes efforts to free approximately 250 Yazidi women held captive in Al Hol refugee camp in northern Syria, which is home to tens of thousands of former ISIS supporters. The women are said to be held against their will by the families of ISIS fighters who enslaved them.
A number of women have children, the product of rape by their captors. Complicating their lot considerably, women must leave their children behind if they are to return to their original Yazidi communities.
“The Yazidi Spiritual Council, the highest authority among the Yazidis, called on its members in 2019 to accept all Yazidi survivors from [ISIS] atrocities, “according to an August report from the non-partisan Wilson Center,” but a few days later the council issued another statement excluding children born to [ISIS] rape… Other Yazidi women continue to hide their identity because they do not want to leave their children born in [ISIS] rape behind.
The Times article, citing anonymous women “and their advocates”, suggested that the filmmakers violated the rights of women “to decide whether they want the footage to be used.” But in a further statement to the filmmakers’ rebuttal, an anonymous survivor described as the film’s “main female protagonist” praised the director for Sabaya. (Hirori himself is a refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan).
“I met [Hirori] for the first time in Syria, where he told me what he was doing and working… We were several girls who had been rescued from ISIS, ”the survivor wrote. “I gave her my consent on the spot, and I didn’t see any of the other girls objecting to being filmed during the entire filming process… We all told her that we consent to everything and that we do not had no worries. “
The unnamed survivor hinted that an “organization”, which she did not name, was behind efforts to undermine the film and raise questions about whether subjects had consented to appear in it. .
“The woman who is the head of the organization and her team tried to contact us, the girls who are in the film, telling us not to sign any consent, not to participate in the film, not to let Hogir us. film, and try to convince us not to participate in this project, ”she wrote. “But what I don’t understand is why these people in this organization are so keen to prevent us from participating in this film; they always call me to try to manipulate me into changing my mind.
In their statement, the filmmakers included testimony from Guevara Namer, described as a “director of Kurdish descent” who participated in filming at Al Hol and elsewhere. Namer said the stories she helped film were told “very honestly, very ethically,” adding: “I would never agree to be a part of a story or make a story where women are again. oppressed “.
Controversy over the issue of consent prompted the International Documentary Association (IDA) to cancel a planned screening of Sabaya in Los Angeles next week. In an article published on its website, IDA said: “A recent New York Times article raised serious allegations about the film. Sabaya. It is not our role to decide these allegations. Nonetheless, as an organization, we need to determine a responsible path forward for IDA’s engagement in the film.
The IDA statement continued, “In the days following the publication of the article, our team engaged in due diligence through a process of communicating with filmmakers and key stakeholders. Due to the potential safety risks for some of the people portrayed in the film, we have chosen to remove the film from our 2021 screening series. As a precaution, we have decided not to amplify the film at this time.
The Times reported that Human Rights Watch was considering programming Sabaya as part of its film festival, but rejected it due to concerns about consent.
But the Swedish Film Institute, which funded Sabaya, issued a statement defending the filmmakers.
“… The producer and director have a long history of working with documentaries and their ethical compass has never been questioned before. On the contrary: they have built a high level of confidence over the years, ”wrote the Swedish Film Institute. His statement referred to unspecified “adjustments” made to the film as a result of “objections from some participants.”
” From our point of view [the filmmakers] ensured both the shooting and the follow-up of Sabaya in a correct and professional manner and that the participants have given their consent, written or verbal, which has the same status under Swedish law. They responded to the objections of a few participants with small roles in the film and immediately made the necessary adjustments.
MTV Documentary has acquired the North American rights to Sabaya in March, and releases the film in New York and Los Angeles at the end of July. It should receive a surge of awards as the Oscars season progresses.
“Sabaya” is a term with multiple meanings, including “captive woman” or “sex slave”. The film received a lot of praise from critics, including, ironically, the New York Times, which awarded it the title of “Critic’s Pick” in July. Critic Devika Girish announced “Hirori’s fearless and immersive cinema”.
Girish pointed to the role of undercover women in the film, infiltrating the Al Hol camp in an attempt to save Yazidi women and girls.
“In a film about the light breaking through the darkest darkness,” Girish wrote, “these women shine the brightest. “