On Her Shoulders
This film centres around the journey of 23-year-old activist Nadia Murad, as she travels the world to tell her story of how she survived being captured and held as a sex slave by ISIS following the horrific genocide of the Yazidi community in northern Iraq. Alexandria Bombach’s On Her Shoulders does not just chronicle a historically significant event and honour the bravery and strength of courage of Murad as she carries the weight of the voice of her people. By exploring further into underlying issues, alongside laying bare the feelings of those who continue to be affected by the atrocity, the director presents us with an incredibly important and deeply moving wake-up call.
By taking a minimalistic approach – the film is mostly comprised of raw footage of interviews and events, with a notable lack of non-diegetic music – the artifice of cinema is stripped away from the screen to leave only authentic human reactions – a triumphant accomplishment made clearer during an anniversary gathering in Germany. Likewise, the talking head sequences that feature Nadia and the others involved in her campaign are just as (if not more) eye-opening to their realities due to their honesty and eloquence in expressing themselves. It’s moments like these that resonate the most during the documentary, and Bombach knows how to punctuate them to ensure they stick with viewers.
While the story of the Yazidi people is deserving of the world’s attention on its own, the film goes several steps further by using Nadia’s experiences as an activist to make broader statements on social attitudes overall. On Her Shoulders is, on one hand, a critique of the media feeding off and perpetuating a horror story rather than focusing on the questions that should be asked. And, on the other hand, it is a discussion of the cultural differences between the Middle East and West, but what fundamentally connects us all as human beings. Neither of these factors are explicitly spelled out for viewers. Instead they’re allowed to develop naturally through touching imagery and conversation, which makes their inclusion all the more poignant.
On Her Shoulders isn’t a sensationalist recreation of a real-life story of survival, nor is it purely a lecture on an event of modern history. It is so much more and is a documentary we should all strive to see.
On Her Shoulders is released in select cinemas and on demand on 25th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for On Her Shoulders here: