New filmmaker screens Arab world’s first documentary about sexual abuse

In her first documentary, a thespian-turned-filmmaker records the tragic stories of Arab women sexually abused during childhood. The Greenhouse-supported film aims to break a social taboo

Industry, Grant Project Activities, Palestine

New filmmaker screens Arab world’s first documentary about sexual abuse

When Palestinian actress and director Abeer Zeibak Haddad wrote a puppet play for children about sexual abuse, she soon discovered that, despite the play winning four local children theatre’s awards, no one really wanted to see it. 

So she changed medium and became a filmmaker. 

With a camera, she travelled around the country in search of women who would dare to speak up about the subject. “You’ll never find an Arab woman who will talk to you!” she was told repeatedly by all those contacted. But, with persistence, she did. 

In Duma, whose title means “dolls” is Arabic, she ties together the stories of four brave Arab women speaking up about how they were sexually abused when they were children. Three out of four choosing to remain anonymous, they agreed to tell their stories to Haddad because, she told Euromed Audiovisual, they trust her and believe in her film. They also saw and approved its final version before it was screened to the public.

Duma was developed through Euromed Audiovisual's Greenhouse programme. It was produced by her husband Suheil Haddad, an award-winning actor and producer, and supported by the Israeli Authority for Television and Film and by the New Foundation for Cinema and Television. Last year, it competed at DocAviv and was screened at the International Women’s Film Festival in Israel. 

Today, the documentary continues its journey around the world, last month in Belgrade and later this year in Chisinau and Mumbai, but is also being screened at schools and colleges around Israel and Palestine to encourage people to speak up about an issue that remains a social taboo.

“With a play, you need props, lights, and actors...” Haddad told Euromed Audiovisual. “Now I go with the DVD, and screen the film and talk about it!”

For Haddad, who believes that documentaries can bring about positive change in society, the screenings so far have been a success. 

“Every time that I screen the film, people cry,” she said.

At one screening in Tel Aviv, she said, an Arab boy told her, “Your film has changed how I feel about Arab women.” After another at a secondary girls’ school, female students told her that boys and parents should really see the film too if it was to change mentalities. 

Haddad now hopes to screen the film all over the Arab world.

A documentary convert, she is now working on two new films beside her acting, one of which is about honour killings, an issue also breached in the recent Euromed Audiovisual-supported feature, A Man of Honour by Jean-Claude Codsi.

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