Review: Commander Arian
by Alfonso Rivera
- Spain's Alba Sotorra immerses herself in the Syrian war, closely following one of the women struggling for a dignified future and gender equality in this tumultuous setting
Alba Sotorra – director of the documentary Game Over [+see also:
film profile] (which won the Gaudí Prize after its screening at Karlovy Vary in 2015) – presented her new film, the shocking Commander Arian [+see also:
film profile], in the Le temps de l'Histoire section at the 63rd Seminci - Valladolid International Film Festival. A Spanish-German co-production the film is a story about women, war and freedom, just like her previous film, in which she shifts her social and anthropological focus onto the extreme and violent theatre of the Syrian conflict.
Armed with her camera, Sotorra accompanies the female soldier in the title at two separate moments in her life, separated by several months. The soldier is called Arian, a 30-year-old woman who is fighting against IS by leading a YPJ team (Women's Defence Unit, created in 2013). During the first part of the film, she is seen participating as a soldier in military manoeuvres. In the second part of the film however, the viewer accompanies the heroine, who has been shot and wounded, during a period of convalescence at a health centre for female soldiers. The intimate nature of the director’s approach reaches such a level that the care, meals and conversations caught on camera between the patients seem almost breathtakingly natural. Arian misses her companions fighting on the frontline, and longs to fight herself, as well as for a few moments of freedom.
The film is shot in a style devoid of any artifice, with no sound other than that of people’s voices, gunshots and explosions. Viewers will find themselves taken aback by the proximity the director establishes, not just with her central character, but also with a battlefield that respects no one, be them children, soldiers or filmmakers. Through this device, the director expresses her pacifist and feminist stance, while revealing a lesser-known aspect of the conflict: the actions of these women, who have so many reasons to fight, such as gender rights, their independence, freedom, and a better future for the women of their country. The documentary is also a portrait of all these warriors, protectors, combatants, and a force that they cannot surrender.
Commander Arian was co-produced by Alba Sotorra SL (Spain) in collaboration with Boekamp&Kriegsheim (Germany), with the participation of TVE, TV3 and Movistar+, and support from the ICEC and the MEDIA-Europe Creative Programme. The documentary made its international premiere at Hot Docs 2018, after which it was screened at Sheeld Doc Fest (as a Tim Hetherington Award nominee), Shanghai, São Paulo and the Duhok Festival in Iraq. The film will also be playing at NYC DOC, in the United States, and at the European Parliament, accompanied by Arian, on 7 November. It will be released two days later in Spain, distributed by 39 Escalones Films. The film's international sales are being handled by the British company Dogwoof Pictures.
(Translated from Spanish)
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