A kidnapped woman talks on her cellphone with her family. We do not see her, but hear her voice, and so do her parents and siblings. Some are adults, others toddlers, but everyone listens and cries quietly. The woman says that bombs are close by, but that she is not afraid, she just wants the bombs to hit the house. "I either want to die or flee, they treat us like animals." She's jezidi, but ISIS has forced her to convert. They carried her husband away and gave her to an ISIS warrior. The women will flee, but will not bring their children, as ISIS will train soldiers and respond to other Jesuits. "What kind of religion does children teach to kill their own parents?" She asks rhetorically. The voice is strong and clear, with an underlying rage, no tears or wailing.
It's not hard to feel the thousands of Jesuit women who were abducted when ISIS attacked the Sinjar mountain range in 2014. Some have managed to escape or have been redeemed by relatives or relief organizations. For others, the abuses do not end; slave auctions, forced marriages, repeated rapes. What does it take for us to take such fates over us so that they become more than numbers in a statistic? During this year's IDFA, the documentary film festival in Amsterdam, three different films illuminated the theme through gripping encounters with individuals.
Loose Money. The phone scene is taken from Shingal, Where Are You?, where Greek director Angelos Rallis has visited a Jesuit family who has sought refuge at a closed coal mine on the Turkish border. They are desperately fighting to get their daughter back from ISIS by buying her free through various middlemen, which may be reminiscent of a maze battle against the clock. The movie title's Shingal is not the daughter, but the hometown they fled from and yearn for. When they return, the village turns out to be in ruins.
I will not disclose the outcome of the exploration action, but the pain in the film is characterized by a situation where nothing is clarified. The refugees live in an intermediate state of waiting, where they do not yet know the scope of what they have to deal with. The result is a commute between acting power and paralysis, which when a sibling says low-key during the telephone conversation that it almost feels pointless to talk to the sister, if they can't help her. They must hide such feelings for her, so at the same time the mother on the phone assures her that she should not be afraid, she will certainly be saved.
Compassion. In the Swedish-produced documentary The Return Director Zahavi Sanjavi takes us to a more organized refugee camp, where a large part of the 20 people are Jesuits. The director has a Kurdish background, like the film's main character, the Swedish nurse Shilan Atroushi. She works as a volunteer at a Swedish-run hospital, and we follow her to work around the camp.
What do you say to individuals who have cruel and heartbreaking stories to tell? Shilan's solution is to take the time to listen and be ready to help with practical problems. It is winter and cool gray weather, and the plain is apparently without vegetation that can bind the wet soil. Shilan herself has a physical disability, and swings painfully on one leg as she steps around the mud. All around her are poorly dressed children running around talking and wanting to be photographed with her, as if she were a local celebrity. It's nice to see their joy in life, even though many have seen their mothers shot in front of their eyes, and others have hardly understood that their parents will never come back.
The refugees live in an intermediate state of waiting, where they do not yet know the scope of what they have to deal with.
Trauma Work. The short documentary is the closest to the group of released women Yezidi Girls, about three teenage girls (16-18 years) who have spent several months with ISIS. With its 14 minutes, this is the only film that approaches the religious practices of the Jesuits. Religion is monotheistic, with elements of Islam and Christianity, but also more esoteric directions such as Zoroastrianism. It is not possible to become jezidi by converting, one has to be born into religion. ISIS believes that they have been Muslims and consider them apostate, which is an extra pretext for brutality.
Kurdish-Dutch Reber Dosky has been allowed to film in Lalish, the Jesuit spiritual center. We get glimpses of several rituals, but without the meaning being explained. The girls go into a room and kiss the door frame, they loosen a knot on a fabric and kiss the snip, or receive a cloth loom thrown at them, kiss it and throw it on. The rituals seem calm, almost meditative, as if filled with a devotion based on action, not argumentation.
At ISIS, the girls were forced to convert to Islam, and it is strong to see how grateful they are to be included in the community again. Traditionally, Jesuit women have been ostracized for sexual intercourse with a man outside of religion, but the extent of the recent tragedy has led religious leaders to come together to set the law aside.
Confidentiality. All three films have a male director, which could have been a challenge when it comes to providing shameful information. This is most clearly the case Yezidi Girls, where none of the three girls answer directly to the question of having been subjected to sexual abuse, but just stares shyly into the ground. Rather, this film has its strength in a gentle joy of life, when we see the girls in white, light-headed veils forget themselves in spontaneous smiles.
I The Return the protagonist Shilan Atroushi is a priceless approach, which arouses confidence with his open heart. The refugees' everyday lives become concrete and vibrant when we hear what she asks about and emphasize, whether it is about admonishing a girl in flip flops to use proper shoes in the cold not to get sick, or to explain to a depressed widower and father that he is not should shut up inside the tent all day. Finally, she even takes him on a walk in the mud, back and forth between the tent rows.
In the more neutral observant Shingal, Where Are You? it is modern technology that conveys our confidence. It is not difficult to live in the family's powerlessness, where they have to sit and listen to the abducted girl without knowing where she is or whether they will see her again. Never have I seen a more heartbreaking picture of the ambiguity between near and far, real and unreal in today's digital communications. Where the film is otherwise a little too long a journey through bleak interior and exterior landscapes, the phone scene is strong enough to carry the project alone.
Rubber boots. Today, the Jesuits may be the most persecuted people in the Middle East, and are in danger of being completely eradicated in the area. It is not the first time they have suffered in a regional conflict – even counting the ISIS attack as the 74th genocide that has hit them. Previously, there are larger exile groups in Europe, especially in Germany, which also has a library and an academy for Jesuit cultural studies in Hanover. England, France and Sweden also have visible jezidi minorities. The total number of Jesuits in the world is unclear, but estimates range from 200 to 000 million.
What we lose in a genocide is not only human life, but also unique ways of thinking and ways of living.
The fact that the Jesuits become the subject of film and writing can help put them on the map as a group, reminding us that what we lose in a genocide is not only human life, but also unique ways of thinking and ways of life. In this sense, it is important that the films do not unilaterally emphasize the aspect of suffering, although this arouses a common human empathy. All three films contain strong single scenes, but as storytelling appears The Return as the most single cast. The reason lies in the same hopeful down-to-earth attitude that dictated the young nurse's condition for joining the film: that the film team donated 600 pairs of rubber boots to the refugees in the spotty camp.