Do you remember, years back, those images of women taking off their black niqabs, after the Northern Syrian city of Manbij was liberated from ISIS by Kurdish forces? Taking off those black covers revealed colourful dresses and big smiles, a powerful symbolic image of joy living underneath oppression, and now coming back to light. Those images fuelled German director Antonia Kilian’s desire to go there.
As the city of Manbij was deemed too dangerous to enter at the moment of her arrival, Kilian eventually ended up at a military academy in Rojava, the largely Kurdish de facto autonomous region in the north east of Syria. There she met Hala: a 19-year-old Arab woman who, after the liberation of her home city, decided to join the liberating forces and become a policewoman, at great personal cost. The Other Side of the River tells her story. And through the strength and dreams of this young woman, it portrays the customs and realities of this complicated region where, to define a place of her own, a woman must fight beyond the battlefield, in her own family and home.
No space for neutrality
Rojava declared its autonomy in 2014 – an effort to establish a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy, while fighting ISIS. The local laws guarantee equality for women, who play a prominent role both on the battlefield and within the political system.
The images of Kurdish women fighters are almost iconic – mostly young girls with long braided tails, colourful scarfs and massive rifles . . .
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