This is not the first time that director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has focused on Pakistan and human rights issues. In fact, it has been fourteen years since she first went to the New York Times without any filmmaking skills, but a truly riveting story to tell, Terror’s Children. A decade later, she won an academy award for Best Documentary Feature with her film, Saving Face, a searing tale about the female victims of acid attacks. This time out, her focus is on “honor killings” and once again, Chinoy is “giving voice to those who cannot be heard”.
It’s the story of 18-year old Saba, who goes against her family’s wishes and marries her long-time love, Qaiser. Lured from Qaiser’s home before she has spent even a full day with him, she is taken down to the river by her father and uncle, shot in the head, thrown into the river, and left for dead. The reason? Her uncle wanted her to marry a man from a better family. She has disgraced the family by going against their wishes. It is now a matter of honor.
Miraculously, she survives and crawls her way to the road for help. Her Father and uncle are soon arrested and thrown into jail. Then the real clash of ideas begins to unfold. While nothing in the Koran speaks to “honor killings”, her father says it’s all about respect – respect and honor. And, he says, he is willing to spend his whole life in jail to uphold those beliefs.
However, public policy in Pakistan also allows for forgiveness. If Saba forgives the perpetrators, they will be released. She digs in her feet and refuses to forgive them saying,
“I want them to be shot in public so that no other father, man does this to a woman and his family.” And a sympathetic attorney and criminal investigator take her side. But her husband’s family and the town elders are steadfast in their belief that the only acceptable stance is compromise – Saba should forgive the men, so the community can regain its equilibrium.
I don’t think I’m giving away too much to say that Saba ultimately decides to forgive the men in public … but promises never to do so in her heart. The last few minutes of the film show Saba, now pregnant, re-uniting with her mother. In a heart-wrenching scene, she talks about the future she sees for her (hoped for) daughter; one in which the young girl will be brave and educated and able to stand up for herself; and do what her heart desires.
As Chinoy so eloquently put it after her Oscar win for “Saving Face”, “To all the women in Pakistan who are working for change, don’t give up on your dreams. This is for you”.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness will air on HBO on March 7 at 9PM.
Watch the trailer>>