Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Through it all, Mediha remains a marvel, finding the inner strength to be there for her brothers at the same time as steeling herself to try to identify her kidnapper." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

“When I take a shower, I’m afraid to look at myself,” says 15-year-old Mediha. It’s one of the few times she specifically refers to the physical impact of the time she spent held by ISIS. Like many people from the Yazidi minority community, who face daily prejudice, she was traded as a sex slave, sold for $500 at the age of 10.

Now, with a camera in her hand in a refugee camp, she tells her story in own words but Hasan Oswald’s documentary is just as much about resilience and healing as it is trauma. Frankly, Mediha doesn’t need to go into chapter and verse for us to know how terrible and haunting the experience was. Executive produced by Emma Thompson, this intimate film deservedly won the US Grand Jury prize at DOC NYC.

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The camera is an outlet for Mediha, who is trying to move forward from her experience with little help from those around her. Her father, mother and brothers were also taken hostage and now her father is presumed dead and her mum and her youngest sibling are still missing. This means that Mediha is the de facto mother figure for her two younger brothers Ghazwan and Adnan. As we see her trying to work things out largely for herself, the film also opens out into a consideration of those who are trying to return kidnapped women and children to their families.

“Hope is a fickle thing,” says Mediha, and no wonder, given that finding family members is a task complicated by the buying and selling of captives, refugee camps that often have areas dominated by ISIS members and women who often now have second families and believe there's nothing to return to. As one rescuer puts it: “Forget the haystack, it’s an ocean.”

Oswald captures the risks involved in trying to track down the missing. In addition to the threat ISIS continues to pose within refugee camps, the volunteers are also facing the threat of Covid. Oswald’s documentary also brings home the emotional trauma that comes with being brought home. Even if a child is found, there’s a good chance that after several years they may view their kidnappers as their family. We see this scenario play out, a reminder that there are no easy answers in this complex situation.

Through it all, Mediha remains a marvel, finding the inner strength to be there for her brothers at the same time as steeling herself to try to identify her kidnapper via photographs. Oswald never makes light of her situation but his careful observance and the space he gives to Mediha to shape her own story allows a cautious hopefulness to shine out from within it.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2023
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Mediha is a member of the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority. She’s also the survivor of an ISIS-orchestrated genocide in 2014. Through video diaries, Mediha provides an intimate account of her grief and trauma.

Director: Hasan Oswald

Writer: Hasan Oswald

Starring: Mediha Ibrahim Alhamad

Year: 2023

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Iraq

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