Sonita Dir Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami makes it to #Docedge

Sonita the movie is based on the story of Sonita Alizadeh. Sonita moved to Iran as a 10 year old from Afghanistan and started writing songs and wanting to perform as a rap artist.

“After her family attempts to sell her into marriage, a young Afghan refugee in Iran channels her frustrations and seizes her destiny through music.”

In Iran it is against the law for a girl to sing so it is difficult for her to record her songs. In Afghanistan it is considered indecent for a woman to sing but she does it anyway.

If 18-year old Sonita had a say in things, Michael Jackson would be her father and Rihanna her mother. She captures her dream of being a famous rapper in her scrapbook. For the time being, her only fans are the other teenage girls in a Tehran shelter. There, Sonita, a refugee from Afghanistan, gets counseling for the traumas she has suffered and guidance in shaping her future. Her family has a very different future planned for her: as a bride she’s worth $9,000. What’s more, women aren’t allowed to sing in Iran. How can Sonita still succeed in making her dreams come true?

I saw this film tonight at the Docedge Film Festival. It was pitch perfect despite a few tricky moments where we wonder if there is a con going down and we are all being manipulated. Director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami has managed to find just the right distance to reveal the story without changing the dynamic (too much) by being there.

Although as I mentioned there are a few anxious and tricky moments when we think the film will have to be abandoned as Sonita comes under pressure to return to Afghanistan to get married against her will.

Documentary film makers can change the story just by having the cameras out and recording but all of the narrative seems to flow with just the right balance of tension and resolve and no undue influence. Although clearly the director was able to help Sonita tell her story and to make connections which brought her to the attention of others.

The film maker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami was able to fit into the background as a supporter and also able to help Sonita help herself by helping her make a music video. Brides for Sale

Ironically Director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami was initially banned from entering New Zealand by the Immigration department. That created a pushback and news stories that caused them to reconsider and to grant a visa to Rokhsareh.

Incredibly that same publicity meant when she got to Auckland she was able to connect with a distant relative seen in the photo below.

Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami

I was a bit wary of going to see Sonita because I thought it might be a bit like the stark realism of Omar but it is more like Wadjda or Lamb  (or even A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) in tone. The film makers get up close and personal but they never intrude.

Aside: Incredibly NZ film director Pietra Brettkelly has made a film called A Flickering Truth about the Afghani film industry and so Rokhsareh and Pietra briefly crossed paths in Kabul during filming. New Zealanders have a reputation for being curious which is just great.

New Zealander Jon Stevenson has also spent considerable time in Afghanistan reporting on the situation there.

Update: When hearing the story of Sonita I was reminded of this astonishing story ‘Homeward’. Hugo is sent by to Seattle from a small village in the Sabalo region of Ecuador.

“When Hugo Lucitante was a boy, his tribe sent him away to learn about the outside world so that, one day, he might return and save their village. Can he live up to their hopes?”
By Brooke Jarvis