“No Burqas Behind Bars” –screening at AI Toronto Reel Awareness Human Rights Film Festival, Saturday Nov 22nd, 6pm @Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, Toronto
by Adriana Dragomir, Media Intern – AI Toronto Film Team
Extraordinary stories of courage and resilience interweave to make Nima Sarvestani’s feature-length documentary “No Burqas Behind Bars” a compelling picture of the paradoxes of control and freedom in present-day Afghanistan.
In Takhar prison, forty women cramped in four small rooms serve long terms for ‘moral crimes’ – fleeing forced or abusive marriages. Sima was sentenced to 15 years for trying to escape her extremely violent husband who beat another wife and her child to death. Nadjibe fled while pregnant because her husband’s beatings endangered her unborn child. Sara is in love. She fled with Javid, the young man she hopes to marry upon her release and who is only a wall-thickness away from her, in the male section of the prison. She can see him every day if she can make a large-enough hole and hide it from the guards. These women risked being dishonoured and killed in order to save their unborn and young children’s lives or to give themselves a chance at love.
Paradoxically, the highly-restricted environment of Takhar provides a safe haven where they can raise their children, where – no longer having to wear identity-erasing burqas – they can tell their side of the story, ignored by the law, bond over shared pain and establish authentic relationships among themselves and with the outside world. The fairness of the long terms is never questioned. In fact, these women fear release. Free to return to their homes, they are in more danger than ever before. The perception that they have undermined the authority and public image of their husbands and brothers is no less than a sentence to death. Still, the prisoners take pride in having the courage to stand up to their abusers. Within the confines of a high-security prison they feel safe to express the inner sense of freedom that led them to flee their seemingly desirable homes in order to stay true to themselves.
In a context that favours the trampling of their rights and freedoms, the film’s courageous protagonists have the strength to carry on, give comfort to others and hope for a better future. This is a must-see film that testifies to the strength of the human spirit in face of incredible adversity.
“No Burqas Behind Bars” is screened in première in Canada at Amnesty International’s REEL Awareness Film Festival, Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 at 6 pm at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, Toronto. The film won Best International Documentary New York Independent International Film Festival 2013 and Best International Documentary, Rome Independent Film Festival 2014.