POLAND 20 MIN, 2021
The story of a woman from Chechnya, Raisa, who has fled with her children to Poland to escape her difficult past. By taking the decision to leave, she breaks away from the traditional system there. Only in this way can she show her objection to the oppressive rules in her home country and the harm she has suffered. She shares her life story with her Polish language teacher in this film about female strength, determination and the struggle for dignity and independence.
A documentary film director and editor, owner of Sangaj Studio, a small production company. She graduated from London University of the Arts with an MA in Documentary Film Directing and completed a course in film at Wajda School in Warsaw. She worked for Polish Television as an editor and reporter and directed films for organizations such as 350.org, Ashoka and Amnesty International. Her last short documentary, «7 Hectares Back», was recognised, among others, by Yale Environment 360 magazine in the best environmental film category.
In 2012, Raisa’s marriage came to an end after 17 years. Her husband had been spending the family money on alcohol and drugs after returning from war. At times he would pull out a knife and threaten her to kill her. She saw no choice but to leave. As part of the Islamic tradition of Adat, child custody rights are given automatically to the father and his family in the case of a divorce. In order to stay with her children, Raisa was forced to leave Chechnya with her family and flee to a tiny flat in Warsaw, where they are still living today.
This topic is one that has deep personal resonance for me and one that I’ve been exploring in order to understand my own history. For years, my grandfather had subjected my grandmother to systematic programme of abuse, one that extended to their four children. My grandmother was 45 years old when she escaped her home country. She went abroad, learned a new language and gained her driving license when she was 55 years old. In Raisa, I see the same strength as in my grandmother. Not only does she fight for a better life for her children, she fights to save her dignity in a harsh and unjust situation.
Everywhere now from Poland to Peru, women are raising their voices. Raisa’s struggle is one that is taking place in silence, and I believe that in telling her story this film can inspire other women to say no to the violence. The world is beginning to open its eyes , but Chechen women’s stories remain very much untold. Not only does the film tackle the issue of gender-based violence and women’s rights, it also breaks down the barrier between society and the refugee.
As a Polish national, I’ve been troubled in the past few years by an upraise in anti-immigrant and xenophobic ideology amongst my compatriots. While I was studying my documentary MA in film in the UK, Brexit became a reality. It seems that all over the world people are choosing to separate themselves in to separate ideological groups. I’ve seen, first hand, how this creates ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mindset that separates people in a time that calls for solidarity. I met Raisa that same year, and despite the differences in language, religion and culture, I saw the strength in her that was truly universal. Through spending time with her, I gained a bond with her and access to a unique and intimate story. I’ve filmed the small moments of love between her and her family, tired times on the bus home after a long day’s shift, and her struggle to memories new Polish words. I believe that in showing these moments to an audience, it can humanize the refugee narrative and show us our similarities rather than our differences. The film also shows that some people must flee their home countries not because of a political conflict or a war but because of a more personal reasons.
I am lucky enough as a European to have freedoms that Raise does not, which is why I’ve chosen to tell her story. And now, when the film is finished, I would like to share this message of female bravery and determination with others.
- Vilnius International Film Festival / Lithuania
- Zubroffka International Short Film Festival / Poland
DOKer 2021 — Short Competition