Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: Before Snowfall
Kurdish-Norwegian film director Hisham Zaman’s 2013 feature debut Before Snowfall tells the story of Siyar, the eldest son in his household, who leaves his small village in Iraqi Kurdistan in search of his sister Nermin. His mission is to atone for the shame that she has brought to his family – having fled an arranged marriage – by killing her in the name of honour. As his epic journey illegally crossing borders through Europe unfolds, we also witness his coming of age as he befriends Evin, a young Kurdish girl dressed as a boy and working in Istanbul.
Before Snowfall is currently being shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival where, through a series of 20 award-winning films, human rights violations are brought to life through visual storytelling. The film provides a documentation of human rights abuses engendered by patriarchial expectations to kill family members in the name of honour, and a culture where the restoration of family honour is valued above human life. But as Siyar travels from one unfamiliar European city to the next, we also observe these cultural notions being tested, and in turn our own sympathies towards him growing through the course of the film.
Shot in four different countries and depicting a variety of landscapes, the film is visually stunning. Its storytelling succeeds in engaging the viewer throughout, and the film’s conclusion is unpredictable as well as moving, successfully testing the viewer’s sympathies. On a human level we are able to sympathise with characters despite their obvious flaws. This is most notable with Siyar, whose stoicism and stilted manner help to convey his youth, as well as the village pressures that he is forced to endure. On the other hand, Evin’s character is less developed; insufficient context is provided to make her character wholly relatable, and at times we feel impatience towards her.
Before Snowfall is not unique in its treatment of honour killing and cultural traditions. However, by exploring the multiple angles from which these themes are experienced on a human level, the film presents an original depiction of a veritable human rights struggle.
Watch the trailer for Before Snowfall here: