The City of Poznań Freedom Award goes to "Sabaya"

14 films entered the Main Competition of the Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival to vie for the The City of Poznań Freedom Award. The jury decided to award film „Sabaya"!


Fourteen films. Fourteen elements which form a surprisingly consistent image of decentralised reality, a world which is irreversibly thrown off its pivot.

Tales in which those who ruled until now, white man in their prime, have disappeared or stepped aside, to the position of bashful and helpless observers, while women, children and old people assumed the roles of narrators. A world without fathers.

In the crumbling reality filled with desert dust and remorseless upheavals, with rivers overflowing their banks, forest burning, animals dying out and human life deprived of its value, the characters take up unequal struggle with chaos, try to fight for a better tomorrow like Greta Thunberg, give a fair assessment of today, like the invincible journalist Maria Rossa or take revenge for the last time, like the anonymous Yazidi woman, who goes to an ISIS camp to get her sisters out of the clutches of male oppressors.

The ultimate sources of the eternal order’s collapse remain a mystery. When asked about them, Mikhail Gorbachev does not want to or cannot give any answer. He smiles like a Sphynx and when nailed down, he replies with a Ukrainian song or Yesenin’s poem. Nobody remembers these melodies anymore, they mean nothing to us.

The time when men left and the world remained in the hands of children and old people is known from the history as wartime. A great war has already started but its tools and forms have changed. Empires have abdicated, leaving behind grotesque remains of former glory: American fighting vehicles falling apart repaired in makeshift shops in Syria’s remote areas, faded tents with barely noticeable UN symbols which shelter Daesh murderers, Red Cross convoys getting stuck amidst the bizarre war in Donbas, small towns of American Midwest plunged into lawlessness and hopelessness, post-colonial wigs on the heads of corrupt Zimbabwean judges, burned lands of the Amazon jungle. “Our” people have retreated in panic, abandoning their equipment, allies and commitments. They left behind ruins, entanglements and feral animals. The situation when there is war of everyone against everyone and on its fringes a lonely hunter tries to catch a wild duck.

The embarrassment of the filmed subject and the distortion caused by the presence of the observer which used to be the biggest obstacles for documentary filmmakers are gone. Who would pay attention to the eye of a camera, when the world is falling apart? Everything is out in the open anyway: criminals declare their murderous intentions openly, courts lie, preachers corrupt the poor with a glass of clean water, police officers grab their truncheons when they have run out of arguments and when love becomes unbearable, people reach for a needle and a syringe. The time of maintaining appearances is over.

What can be saved in this ocean of ruin? The maxim “if you save one life, you save the whole world” is always applicable. It is an act of courage to record an old song on a cassette and keep the heritage of an entire people in a plastic bag, under a pallet. Discovering love in an old people’s home is a detective’s success. It is a proof of the biggest motherly sacrifice to cut off from your loving daughter so that she does not get dragged into the whirl of drugs and violence. Stealing a dog becomes an attempt to defend one’s own dignity. Getting on a commercial flight from New York to Manila or on a boat from Europe to America becomes an act of heroism and faith in superior humanitarian values. A declaration of war on global establishment which is somewhere in the spectrum between jaded conformism, decadence, greediness, hypocrisy and blood-thirsty psychopathy.

The conclusion is unsettling. There is no return to the previous order but life goes on. It is reborn and pushing forward at a ferocious speed, with no map of an unknown territory. All we can do is abandon our safe oases and follow the uncertain flow, in hope that our good instincts will prevail.

How to choose one of fourteen outstanding stories which make up such a complementary, consistent whole? We must trust our intuitions and look for films which bear the essence of our tragic time and bring us hope, though not the naive, easy or sentimental one.

In a war-torn and poverty-ridden no-man’s-land in the Syrian and Turkish borderland there are people who are not only able to fight for their own and their families’ survival but also to risk everything for saving the lives of others: women held captive by the murderers from the fallen Islamic State. ISIS suffered a military defeat but it ceased to exist as a network of mafia connections in which the enslaved Yazidi women, whom the oppressors refer to as “Sabaya” (female slave), have become a precious commodity. The fates of thousands of them remains unknown. They are kept in secret refugee camps as well as towns and villages in borderlands of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Kurdistan.

A group of desperadoes tries to set them free by sending female volunteers to the ISIS camps. They use the cover of niquabs to penetrate the sex trafficking networks and indicate the places where they are kept.  One after another, the women and girls are freed from captivity and returned to their families. We take part in the bloodcurdling rescue missions and then the processes of trauma healing as well as attempts to return to normal lives. “You’re safe now,” one of the women freed during a night campaign is told. But when there is a fire in the field next to the temporary shelter for the runaways or when gunshots come from a van chasing them, the safety turns out to be illusory. The makers of “Sabaya” managed to come close to Evil and look it right in the eye, without looking away. However, they managed to distil the image of pure love, devotion, humanity and freedom from this human hell.

Such a perspective which creates a full and honest image deserves the highest distinction. Therefore, we took a unanimous decision that the Freedom Award at the Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival in Poznań goes to “Sabaya” by Hogir Horiri.