11th of March 2024   |   News    |       |    129

"Four Daughters," a hybrid documentary

The structure of the documentary "Four Daughters," which has a high chance of winning an Oscar, can be classified within the category of hybrid documentaries.

According to the public relations report of the Center for the Development of Documentary, Experimental, and Animation Cinema, Mohammad Ehsan Mofidi Kia stated: Once upon a time, Olfat had four daughters, Ghofran, Rahma, Aya, and Taysir. Like other girls, they were full of the zest of life with a touch of mischief. Olfat was strict with her daughters, but little did she know that one day they would decide to leave. However, life never went the way she wanted. The story of Olfat's daughters became so compelling that Kawsar Ibn Haniyeh, the writer and documentarian, was inspired to go after Olfat after years and inquire about what happened to her daughters and precisely understand their experiences.

When Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller in Tunisia, set himself on fire due to harassment by a municipal officer, he could not have imagined that he had set off a chain reaction that would shake the future of his country and the world. Now, in Tunisia, a woman strikes a sīlī (a traditional musical instrument) to her daughter's ear, changing the lives of the Sheikhawi sisters, and hearing their story will shock the world.

Ghofran and Rahma, Olfat's two elder daughters, influenced by the extremism in Tunisia and its radical teachings, initially changed their appearance, leading to a transformation in the behavior of the sisters. They openly adhered to their self-imposed rules and regulations, and after a while, they joined the ranks of ISIS, or as they called it, the Islamic State. Soon, their images were published in the media as they entered the extremist camps in Syria. It was there that Olfat's first grandchild was born to an ISIS father!

The structure of the documentary "Four Daughters" falls into the category of hybrid documentaries. The reconstructions, performed by professional actors such as Sabri Hindi and Majd Mastura, are cinematic and calculated, artistically framed, and sometimes reminiscent of professional photographers' frames. Intentional plays with color and light, and most importantly, the type of interaction between the interview space, the documentary, and the reconstructions, all contribute to a powerful and moving work that, whether we like it or not, takes us on its journey and tells us its deeply sorrowful story.

Ben Hania, the documentary director, mentioned in an interview that she does not intend to judge Olfat's behavior. Instead, she aims to describe the situation and create the possibility of understanding and analyzing what has influenced the girls' behavior, whether it was Olfat's intention or not. The audience undoubtedly holds Olfat responsible, while the two younger daughters and Sabri Hindi, who plays Olfat in the reconstruction scenes, blame her in many of their dialogues and attempt to reproach her.

Interestingly, it is worth noting that the radicalization of Ghofran and Rahma was a consequence of the open society policy in Tunisia after 2000 and democratic movements that allowed everyone, including extremists, to freely express their beliefs. These two girls fell into the trap of radical ideologies during one of these sessions of preaching and indoctrination.

According to the author, however, this extremism has another aspect, an aspect that now holds the other two daughters and seems normal to everyone. What seems more challenging than avoiding strictness is reaching a balance, as the saying goes, "The best of matters is the middle course."

The documentary "Four Daughters" aims to hold the Tunisian government accountable for the Sheikhawi sisters' issues. Olfat urges the Tunisian authorities to bring her daughters back from Libya to face trial in their home country. At least for Fatima, her granddaughter who had no role or fault in the incident, she wants her to be entrusted to her care so that she does not end up in a large prison and can lead a normal life. Olfat wants to teach Fatima to distinguish right from wrong, but she says this time she will allow the girl to choose her own path. As Olfat puts it, "Her past was dark and obscure, only God knows what awaits her in the future."

The feature-length documentary "Four Daughters," known as "Daughters of Olfat" in its Arabic and French versions, has been nominated for many awards, including winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival. It won the Best Documentary Film award at the César Awards and was nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the 2024 Oscars. Given the unique perspective of this documentary on women's issues and its specific approach to portraying Olfat and her daughters, Kawsar Ibn Haniyeh's work is likely to receive special attention at the Academy Awards and may not be left without a prize. We will have to wait a few more days to find out.