Directed by: Abd Al-KaderHabak
Starring: Fatima Homaed, Weam Ghabbash, Malake Harbliya
Documentary Film Review by: Chris Buick
Her Stories (2021) Film Review
A word of warning, you are about to see the word incredible a lot. But believe me, every usage is justified because really, it’s the only way to describe the stories that are told and the women telling them in Abd Al-Kader Habak’s powerful documentary film Her Stories.
A further word of warning, while Her Stories is an incredible (start the count) celebration of three women who defied the odds to try and overcome all cultural and societal barriers women in Syria face every day, it is also a harrowing and unrelenting look at the reality of constant fear and destruction not just women but all Syrian people have to endure throughout the ongoing crisis plaguing the country and while some of the footage is ultimately full of hope and undoubtedly inspiring, other parts are truly heart-breaking and hard-to-watch.
Journalist and filmmaker Abd Al-Kader Habak spent six years documenting what has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. In 2017, after a devastating car bomb exploded near the city of Aleppo, he lay down his camera and ran towards the destruction to help survivors, rescuing a child that was barely breathing in the process. Habak’s heroics were captured in an image that then went viral.
Now, with his first documentary film, Habak wants the world to know about those who also have incredible stories to tell, in his words, the women who “uphold the burden of the war the most. In the absence of security, family and support, they become responsible caregivers and fight for their rights in a society that side-lines their role.”
As mentioned, Her Stories follows the experiences of three women, Fatima, Weam and Malake, and while their motivations and aspirations of their stories may differ, their experience and message are profoundly in unison. Their motivations for their actions are what make up the structure of the piece, each incredible woman dedicated their own aptly named part, The Family, The Self and The Land.
The Family, tells the story of Fatima, who after enduring years amidst the conflict, makes the heart-breaking decision to leave her beloved homeland behind for Turkey with her family, wondering if she’ll ever see it again. But her story doesn’t stop there. An advocate for women’s rights within her culture and society, we see Fatima still working tirelessly from afar to make sure women like her are able to get the help, education, opportunities and equality they deserve.
The Self, follows the experiences of Weam, another who left Syria in the hopes of still being able to change her country from better. While also fighting for a woman’s place in her culture, we learn of Weam’s own struggles to find her own place in the world, a displaced refugee looking for a place to feel safe. Finally, The Land, which follows the story of Malake, a nurse in Aleppo, completes the theme of an undying sense of patriotism each of these women still holds in their heart despite everything. Choosing to participate in the revolution, under the ever-present danger from missile strikes, Malake stays in the heart of it all, determined to help everyone and anyone she can at great risk, eventually even being rightly recognised by the UN for her efforts.
“What's happening to us is unbelievable”
The words of Fatima’s young son as they watch warplanes bombard the distant landscape with missiles say it all. It’s a beautifully put together piece of filmmaking, Habak makes sure each message is loud and clear, fully celebrating the incredible triumphs of each of these women while fully realising the shocking reality of the still dire situation that we all should not ignore.
Her Stories is a stark look at women fighting for their place in a society that relentlessly oppresses them, fighting for equality as well as survival and with the unwavering resilience to keep going even in the direst of circumstances. A wonderful study of perseverance, strength and determination, Habak’s incredible documentary is just that.