Sundance 2021 – Sabaya

I run into a problem writing about films like this. It’s about something important, and it’s well made and gripping. In 2014, ISIS (Daesh) attacked the ancestral homeland of the Yazidi people, and among other atrocities, abducted thousands of women and girls to be their sex slaves (sabaya). 5 years later, a group of Yazidi people led by Mahmud and Zayid infiltrate a camp to free these women and girls and bring them back to their Yazidi homeland. Director Hogir Hirori has crafted an appropriately hard watch with this documentary. He’s shining a light on atrocities and some brave people who risk their lives everyday to save others. It’s a film about an important topic, and so I always feel bad when I think a movie like this is good and not great. 

The film is tautly constructed, and you feel the real sense of danger and imminent threat that lives with these people because Hirori is right there with them. Multiple points it’s sort of stunning you’re seeing this footage, because had one thing gone wrong in many of these situations, the cameraperson would be dead right now.

I wanted to know more about Mahmud, what propelled him towards this and how he handles the stress and heartbreak of it all. Why him and not somebody else constantly putting themselves in danger? We’re distant from our main characters in a way that doesn’t necessarily improve the film. If the decision to not know much about him and the others running this operation was done to protect their identities, then I can’t really complain about that. All in all, Sabaya is a film made with skill that deserves to be seen. I have my little criticisms, but what do they matter with a film like this?

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