Shelley Saywell explores so-called “honour killings” in her new film
The girl wouldn’t wear the hijab; her father couldn’t bear the feeling that he was losing control of her. A sensational murder. The cameras flash, the daily reporters meet their deadlines by filing timely stories. But then they shift focus to the next day’s item. Filmmaker Shelley Saywell (BA 1977 Woodsworth) has made a career of documenting what happens after the mainstream media moves on. For her celebrated 1997 film, Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam, she tracked down the girl shown running naked from a napalm attack in perhaps the most famous news photograph from the Vietnam War.
Her latest film, In the Name of the Family, looks at so-called honour killings – including that of Aqsa Parvez, a Mississauga teen whose father and brother were recently convicted in her death. Saywell convinced an extraordinary variety of people to talk to her for this film, the winner of the Best Canadian Feature at this year’s Hot Docs festival. The interviews lend colour and nuance to the stories we’ve read about in black and white. We hear the disturbing tale of a taxi-driving father who follows his daughter everywhere in his car to see what she’s wearing and who her friends are; we watch a mother talking and weeping near the graves of her two teenaged daughters, killed by her longtime husband and their father.
The film has no narrator; rather, the story is told primarily through the girls who are living this dual existence. It profiles their extraordinary courage as they struggle to find a way to participate fully in the rituals of North American teen life, without utterly disappointing the families they love. The story of a brother and sister, both Afghan immigrants to the U.S., illustrates how intractable the problem can be. The brother stabbed his sister 11 times – because she had the gall to suggest she wanted to move to New York for a summer job, “without permission.” He speaks from behind bars at Attica, and is unrepentant: “She destroyed my family. If she did listen to me, I wouldn’t be here.” The sister who somehow survived the multiple stabbings, tells her chilling account calmly. “He is stabbing me, and saying, ‘I am Muslim, I am going to kill you.’ And I am thinking, ‘Islam does not allow people to hurt an ant, how could you kill your own sister?’”