Opening film

We are pleased to open this year's festival with the impressive Sundance award winner SABAYA. The documentary film recalls the fate of thousands of Yazidi women still in captivity of the IS.  In this interview, director Hogir Hirori gives insights into his approach and the current situation of the protaginists.

SABAYA by Hogir Hirori

The so-called Islamic State attacked the city of Sinjar – murdering the men, kidnap- ping the women. Thousands are still held captive as SABAYA (sex slaves). The men and women from the Yazidi Home Center are their only chance to escape hell.

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HRFFB: What was your motivation to shoot SABAYA and how did you make contact with the men and women of the Yazidi Home Centre who risked their lives to rescue the women being held as sex slaves by ISIS – the ‘Sabayas’?

Hogir Hirori: Sabaya is the third in a trilogy of films that I have made since 2014 documenting the consequences of war: first there was The Girl Who Saved My Life, then The Deminer and now Sabaya. Since 2014, I had been wondering what had happened to the women and girls who were kidnapped by ISIS. So I decided to go down to northeast Syria to find out more. That was when I met the volunteers at the Yazidi Home Centre.

HRFFB: Your film shows how unstable the situation in Iraq is and how much influence ISIS still has. Did you ever feel like you were in danger?

Hirori: You mean in Syria? Yes, because the Kurdish self-government and forces in Syria are having a hard time controlling the area, even with ISIS defeated. The many internal conflicts in Syria, with all the different groups fighting each other, and Turkish invasions are allowing ISIS sleeper cells to become stronger day by day. Danger is part of everyday life in Syria, which I certainly felt and experienced when I was filming Sabaya.

HRFFB: The members of the Yazidi Home Centre but also the girls they rescue speak so openly with you – how did you build trust?

Hirori: I made sure to give them time to get to know me off camera and never to rush them.

HRFFB: Do you know what the situation is like today for those who were rescued?

Hirori: Those that I know of are now living in Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of them are trying to move on with their lives, although it’s not always easy. Some of them are studying, working, and some have found love. But there are also those who are struggling to recover from everything they’ve gone through.

HRFFB: How many women are – to your knowledge – still being held captive by the so-called IS and how could the international community help to free them?

Hirori: According to the Yazidi Home Centre, there are still over two thousand women and girls in ISIS captivity. If those volunteers have managed to save so many with such limited resources, I am sure that the international community, which has much more power and financial resources, could do a lot.

HRFFB: After watching the film, the viewer feels really emotionally shaken, as you show the cruel reality and aftereffects of war. What do you personally hope to achieve with this film?

Hirori: I hope that the film can be used as evidence of what has happened to these women and girls, and to make the world aware that that those still in captivity can be saved and helped. I would also like to remind the world that hate is never the answer and that we need to treat each other with more love and respect – regardless of our cultural background, religion or gender.