Hot Docs 2018 Review: “Commander Arian – A Story of Women, War and Freedom” (2018) ★★★★


The work of a documentary filmmaker is way harder than a feature filmmaker. The responsibility of capturing everything in their camera as the witness is much higher than telling a fictional story. And when it comes to war, whether you’re holding a gun in hand or a camera, it’s the same thing. Alba Sotorra’s “Commander Arian – A Story of Women, War and Freedom” is a great example of the fact that war or a battle can be won by women as well. Yes, the importance of men too exists on the battlefield and is a must have, because while one defends, the other one kills, isn’t it?

Dedicated to for women who fight to change, the film opens with Commander Arian, who is at the shelter for wounded in Syria where she tries to heal her wounds after getting hit by five bullets. The opening scene explains the urgency of having YPJ Women Protection Units and the reason this unit had to be born. “I miss everything. I miss my comrades, the fighting, the war. To share the pain and difficulties. And to share the happiness of liberation.” – says Arian, after which we are taken back one year to follow her and her comrades, their struggle, fight against ISIS, and the most important mission they have determined to accomplish ­- to liberate Kobane from the same ISIS.

It marks one month and seventeen days when Arian shares with her brother, Baran, over the phone how difficult it is to not be on the battlefield. But when we return to where everything has started, before Arian got hit, we see her coaching, guiding or even counseling younger women soldiers who have their own fate, belief and even doubts. One says, “Here I have more hope than being at home” is a strong emphasis why the idea of getting shot on the line of duty is way important than just being, perhaps, someone’s wife or doing something less important than fighting for the rights of women in the land where it is less protected.

Overall, Alba Sotorra’s work is outstanding here. Her sense of feminism captured in this film is remarkable. Of course stories like the one Arian shares are many. But the way the filmmaker takes her approach makes it even more notable and important than ever. The realization of having a war with evil is, I guess, better than hiding the dark and do nothing. But the Kurdish women from resistance came together, in volume, strength and reason for the ISIS to be afraid of. And even if they’re not, they will become at some point. Because where there’s evil, there is always good walking beside just in case to prove the point that no matter how far bad can go, it won’t go further than the kindness of another being that will find a way, eventually, to stop the insanity and chaos that has taken over Syria.

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