In 2014, the Yezidi city of Shingal in northern Iraq was conquered by ISIS. The terror group murdered thousands of men and kidnapped 3,000 women and girls who became sex slaves – later recognized as a genocide by the UN and led to US airstrikes. In a deserted coal mine on the Turkish border, thousands of Yezidi refugees wait for safe return. Through the eyes of an older man, a teenage boy and a family, SHINGAL: Feminicide in the Age of ISIS explores the burdens and dilemmas of this persecuted religious minority. Children discuss shockingly adult topics such as the chances of another genocide taking place, and how much better life would be in Europe. Meanwhile, the Havind family desperately tries to secure the return of their daughter from the IS slave camp. The suffering is made all the more palpable when the family visit their ancestral city of Shingal, which has been reduced to rubble. A haunting and moving film about human perseverance and family bonds against the backdrop of massacre, sexual slavery and forced exile.
In Yezidi culture, there is no richer spiritual element than a woman, who is a symbol of birth and rebirth. Therefore, the search for the kidnapped Yezidi women is indeed the story of all Yezidis searching for their own identity to be reborn beyond the ruins of Shingal.
On a broader level, it is a film about the dispossession, fate and identity of a religious minority, politically oppressed and persecuted for centuries in Iraq. Yezidis can recite 72 attempted genocides perpetrated against them by their neighbors. Even if they manage to reach safety in Europe, it could still mean the disappearance of their unique religion, cohesive community and identity.
Kani Shingal? resides somewhere between a theatrical documentary and contemplative cinema, that tells its story in a three act structure. Kani Shingal? is a minutely detailed observational examination into individual and group behaviours of Yezidi souls, victimized and disempowered, thrown together in isolation to deal with circumstances beyond their control.
Despite their bleak situation they find capacity to dream and hope together as a community, embracing companionship and mutual support. Their collective mourning becomes part of a healing process akin to a group therapy.
Despite the fact I could not communicate easily with the characters during filming (no translator was present) we were connected emotionally. Operating the camera myself and shooting each scene for hours allowed me to respectfully persist with the person under observation, until I melted into the background and became subordinate to events as they unfolded. The long takes and medium distances permitted me to depict each character, framed by their immediate environment, in detail. In that way the camera slowly disappears as the subject becomes accustomed to my intimate yet unobtrusive presence.
The characters look at the camera, but they also act as if it is not there, divulging with absolute natural authority not only their physical presence but also something like their traumatized “souls”.
Kani Shingal? continues the thematic approach of my previous film (A Place for Everyone, 2014) on memory and the post-traumatic behavior after a genocide. This time, I am looking at the ongoing impact of an attempted genocide and loss following a traumatic event. My motivation for making this film springs from my own personal experience being the grandchild of refugees who fled war and sought protection in Europe.