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Review: ‘Shingal, Where Are You?’ brings faces of genocide to Hot Docs (Includes first-hand account)

“Genocide” is almost a dirty word that no one wants to utter — not because it’s not occurring in multiple countries around the world, but because of the obligation its acknowledgment places on foreign powers. With the promise after WWII that it would never be permitted to happen again, labelling any massacre as such requires a response. In 2014 Daesh (ISIS) began a brutal campaign against the Yazidis in Iraq, killing thousands of men, imposing forced religious conversion, and kidnapping thousands of women and girls for sexual slavery. They were eventually deemed to be acts of genocide by the United Nations and United States. The documentary, Shingal, Where Are You?, follows a family displaced by the conflict.

The Havind family lived in the Yazidi city of Shingal until it was captured by Daesh in 2014. They’re now living as refugees in southeast Turkey along the Iraqi border. Two young women from their circle were among the kidnapped and while one is quickly returned, the Havind’s daughter is held captive along with her children. Her father and brother negotiate with costly intermediaries to rescue her, but in the meantime all they have are distressing phone calls in which she describes the horror of her imprisonment. As everyone waits to see what happens next, the children and elderly go about their usual business of rabblerousing and card-playing respectively.

Taking the fly-on-the-wall approach, director Angelos Rallis and co-director Hans Ulrich Goessl follow the Havinds and others without ever interacting with them, nor do they include any narration or a soundtrack. The film opens and closes with text descriptions of the situation, which is the only “interference” by the filmmakers; it’s often difficult to even tell if anyone is manning the camera, or if it was just setup and left to observe. There are deeply emotional scenes as the refugees worry for their loved ones and their futures, but these are generally followed by a neutral scene of the elders or children. However, both generations exhibit their angst in different ways. The minimalist approach works, though the frequent inclusion of what would otherwise be considered “B-roll” makes the film longer than necessary.

Shingal, Where Are You? is screening as part of the “World Showcase” program at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Directors: Angelos Rallis and Hans Ulrich Goessl (co-director)

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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