In the dark of night in northeastern Syria, two men drive their wrecked jeeps to Al Hol, a refugee camp for the families of fighters for Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Men rifle through tents and argue with hostile residents before finding their target: a Yezidi teenage girl who was kidnapped years ago and held as a “sabaya,” or sex slave. As rescuers leave the camp with him, they dodge speeding cars and gunfire.
All of this happens in the first 20-or-so minutes of Hogar Hirori’s “Sabaya”. Mahmoud and Ziad, volunteers at the Yazidi Home Center in Syria, will make several more such trips during the film, and hundreds more after the cameras are turned off. His work is enormous, and it demands a fanfare to mirror Hirori’s fearless, immersive filmmaking.
Shooting with a hand-held camera, Hirori (who also edited the film) stitches together the daily lives of the men at the center – smoking cessation, family meals, endless phone calls with relatives of the captured girls. – Routine in the picture of the insensitive. It’s somewhat of a protective tactic: to call attention to the tragedy of a 7-year-old child rescued after six years of imprisonment, or a girl whose family refuses to accept their son because his father is an ISIS fighter. Unleashing it is the debilitating terror.
Which makes all the more remarkable the courage of the former Sabyas who enlist themselves in the camp as informers. Hirori following closely with his camera as I saw him enter the camp in a mask, my heart trembling with both fear and hope. In a film about a light breaking through the darkness of darkness, these women shine the brightest.
not evaluated. In Kurdish and Arabic, with subtitles. Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes. in Theaters.