Sundance 2021: “Sabaya”

© Lolav Media

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It would be an understatement how difficult sometimes it is watching documentary films such as “Sabaya”, “For Sama” or “Last Men in Aleppo”. It’s like a thriller that, more or less, offers a bittersweet ending, but through the bloodshed of innocent lives.

In Northern Iraq, Yazidi women are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery to Daesh forces, who first rape them, keep young women and girls into their possession and resell them to other men. Mahmud, along with the members of Yazidi Home Center in Syria, with the help of infiltrators, locate and liberate kidnapped women from one of the most dangerous camps in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria. All these women are called Sabaya (sex slaves). Some of them are little girls and one of them is just seven.

“Sabaya”, sadly, is like a suspenseful thriller but, unlike any other Hollywood film, takes place in real life. Mahmud, armed with a phone and a gun each time, as the hidden camera follows him, enters the camp, risking his own life, to find a woman he has a photo of, sent by her surviving relatives. As he gets into action, his wife, Siham and his mother, Zahra with the utmost respect provide shelter and care to those who Mahmud saves from captivity.

It’s impossible to watch those scenes without getting goosebumps or tears. But a lot of information provided is nightmarish too. As you go from one scene to another, the film offers a powerful portrayal of bravery and courage, self-sacrifice and human decency. While, on the other hand, it paints the world in a dark color, especially for those who become victims of human trafficking, sex slavery and more.

Hogir Hirori, who wears multiple hats as the director, cinematographer, editor and producer, delivers stunning skills as a documentarist, by giving much-needed recognition to an organization such as the Yazidi Home Center that has managed to save over 206 women and girls from Daesh. Unfortunately, more than 2,000 are still missing. Hirori’s camera is like an eyewitness who delivers an emotionally charged atmosphere, filled with tears, grief and love. As it reminds us how cruel the world is, and how humans can be inhumane too, “Sabaya” gives us hope that people like Mahmud and his wonderful family is what we need if we want to preserve the best in us.

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