On Her Shoulders
|On Her Shoulders|
|Directed by||Alexandria Bombach|
|Produced by||Hayley Pappas |
|Music by||Patrick Jonsson|
|Edited by||Alexandria Bombach|
On Her Shoulders is a 2018 American documentary film. It was directed by Alexandria Bombach and produced by Hayley Pappas and Brock Williams under the banner of RYOT Films. The film follows Iraqi Yazidi Kurds human rights activist Nadia Murad on her three-month tour of Berlin, New York, and Canada, as she met with politicians and journalists to alert the world to the massacres and kidnapping going on in her native land. In 2014, at the age of 19, Murad had been kidnapped with hundreds of other women and girls by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and held as a sex slave; she managed to escape. Also appearing in the film are Murad Ismael, Simone Monasebian, Michelle Rempel, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Ahmed Khudida Burjus, Amal Clooney, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Barack Obama, and Ki-moon Ban.
The film was released on 20 January 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Documentary Directing Award and the Grand Jury Prize. It received favorable critical reviews.
In August 2014, Nadia Murad, aged 19, was captured by ISIS in Iraq along with hundreds of other Yezidi men and women. She and other young women were taken to Mosul, where they were held as sex slaves. Murad later told Time: "I did not want to kill myself – but I wanted them to kill me". In November 2014, she was able to escape after her captors left a door open, and ran away to safety. After the escape, she was transported to a refugee camp.
In 2015, film director Alexandria Bombach first heard about Murad, after seeing her UN Security Council speech. She remembers taking notice of the speech, and paying attention to the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS. In July 2016 RYOT Films reached out to Bombach to direct a short film about Murad. Bombach met Murad two weeks later and, after meeting her, wanted to put her in a feature film, saying: "to not only do justice to her story, but we were the only ones with the access that we had and so it felt like a huge responsibility to bring justice to it and bring nuance to the issue and to her story". Bombach had to be careful about what she said to the financial staff at RYOT Films, however, as the film company wanted her to produce a short profile, not a feature film.
Bombach began filming Murad in 2016. Principal photography took place in Berlin, New York, and Canada over a period of three months, as the crew followed Murad around on her meetings with politicians and journalists in an effort to alert the world to the massacres and kidnapping going on in her native land. Bombach said they had no idea what was going to happen day to day.
Bombach said this was the hardest film she had ever made. She added: "It was like losing some humanity myself by not putting the camera down and being able to hug this person". Whilst filming, Bombach recalls, "I had a mic on Nadia for a lot of the time and I was on a long lens, so I was hearing what people were saying to her. Sometimes I wanted to push those people away from her. She never reacted in a way where she seemed frustrated or angry or upset with anyone. She was just so consistently gracious and patient with everyone".
Before beginning editing, Bombach received a Skype call from RYOT to confirm that she would be producing a short profile of Murad. According to Bombach, "I lied". She spent the next six weeks editing the film in her parents' garage in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She hired translators to join the editing crew who were familiar with Murad's native language of Kurdish Kurmanji, and worked together with her assistant editor, Michael Bucuzzo, a transcriber, Frank Quatrone, and two translators.
After finishing the editing of the 95-minute film, Bombach called Bryn Mooser, CEO of RYOT Films; she recalls being terrified to confess that she had made a feature film. The phone call lasted about an hour, and in the end Mooser said yes to a feature film. After receiving the CEO's approval, the editing group did not send the film to the spring film festivals so they could spend more time polishing the editing.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 52 reviews, and an average rating of 7.86/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "On Her Shoulders traces one woman's incredible journey to offer an inside look at modern political advocacy – and a challenge to viewers yearning to effect their own change." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 84 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "Universal acclaim".
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Alexandria Bombach's arresting documentary raises a significant question: has our compassion on international human rights become Malala-ised?". Nell Minow of the RogerEbert.com wrote: "Director Alexandria Bombach understands that there are two stories here. First there is the inspiring story of a young woman who had no ambitions of becoming a world figure but who overcame unthinkable loss and trauma by devoting herself to helping others". David Ehrlich of the IndieWire wrote: "In a film that often loses narrative thrust as it acquires emotional intensity, these moments have a way of restoring some kind of balance to Bombach's doc, which – like its star – is uncomfortably wedged between freedom and despair, sincerity, and performance. That isn't to say that Murad's testimony is inauthentic."
Pat Mullen of P.O.V. said in his negative review: "The doc has no meat beyond the portrait of its subject and the cause for which she is 'the face'. The subject deserves one's attention, so disapproval of the film feels like dismissal of her story". Nigel Andrews of Financial Times wrote: "On Her Shoulders is close to being awful. Documentarist Alexandria Bombach trails after Nadia Murad, the Nobel-honoured Yazidi-Iraqi spokesperson for human rights who was kidnapped and raped by Isis, along with dozens, even hundreds of her compatriots."
|2018||SXSW Film Festival||Chicken & Egg Award – Documentary||Alexandria Bombach||Won|||
|Warsaw International Film Festival||Discoveries Section||Nominated|||
|Reykjavík International Film Festival||Best Documentary||Nominated|||
|National Board of Review||Freedom of Expression Award||On Her Shoulders||Won|||
|Nashville Film Festival||Best Documentary Feature||Alexandria Bombach||Nominated|||
|Jerusalem Film Festival||Best Documentary||Nominated|||
|Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival||Docs for Schools Award||Won|||
|Hollywood Music in Media Awards||Best Original Score – Documentary||Patrick Jonsson||Nominated|||
|Heartland Film Festival||Grand Prize – Documentary Feature||Alexandria Bombach||Won|||
|Hamburg Film Festival||Political Film Award||Won|||
|Sundance Film Festival||Documentary Directing Award||Won|||
|Grand Jury Prize||Won|
|Dokufest International Documentary and Short Film Festival||Human Rights Award – Special Mention||Won|||
|Human Rights Award – Human Rights Dox||Nominated|
|Dallas International Film Festival||Grand Jury Prize – Documentary Feature||Nominated|||
|Cleveland International Film Festival||Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Award||Nominated|||
|Camden International Film Festival||Best Documentary Feature||Won|||
|Biografilm Festival||Best Film Unipol Award – International Competition||Nominated|||
|2019||Film Independent Spirit Awards||Best Documentary||Alexandria Bombach
|Truer Than Fiction Award||Alexandria Bombach||Nominated|
|Documentary Edge Festival||Best International Feature – Honourable Mention||Won|||
|Cinema Eye Honors||The Unforgettables||Nadia Murad||Won|||
|Cinema Eye Audience Choice Prize||Alexandria Bombach||Nominated|
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