Women with Gunpowder Earrings

In conversation with ISIS sympathisers

Women with Gunpowder Earrings Documenting life under the Islamic State is hard enough but for a young Iraqi female journalist it must be the hardest story. When Noor finds herself and her camera on the frontline of the Iraqi army's move into IS territory she evocatively reveals the painful stories of women and children from IS families. But when she begins to question the treatment of them by the Iraqi army Noor soon becomes part of the story.

“I didn’t come to stay behind the frontline. I came to see people and families and learn about their fate.” Iraqi journalist Noor Al Helli puts her life at risk to speak to people who have lived under Islamic State. Facing snipers and road bombs as she travels to the Ninevah Province, even witnessing the murder of a fellow journalist does not deter her. “My life isn’t any more precious than that of these avenging heroes”, she says of the Iraqi military.

Noor begins her journey in ISIS-controlled Tal Afar. There she meets a group of women and children, many of whom have been wounded by Iraqi bombardments. “We attempted to leave but there were explosions. We had no money to give the smugglers to take us out”, one woman claims, but the Iraqi soldiers are not convinced. “Families who stayed there are certainly ISIS”, they maintain.

Noor protests the Iraqi military’s treatment of women and children who have been freed from ISIS, but is told that “your duty is to film. That’s it”. “I’m not here to record anything”, she responds. “My duty and yours is to save families.” Speaking to women at a camp for displaced people, she finds that some remain sympathetic to Islamic State. “We came for Islam and Sharia but war and bombardments took away our peace”, one woman says.

The few remaining people in Kojo, a ghost town besieged and then abandoned by ISIS, have a different perspective. “They killed all the mothers. They killed our youths. Our hopes of living were beheaded here”, says a former captive. At another displacement camp, Noor meets more women who are pro-ISIS. “We all applauded ISIS”, says Umm Musa, whose husband joined the organisation. “It wasn’t like now that I’m constantly told to remove my veil. We weren’t regarded as notorious.”

Noor, battling with her own conscience, confronts a woman who is now vulnerable and displaced, but who longs to return to life under ISIS. "What about murder, beheading and homelessness?" Noor demands. "I didn't see any of that," the woman protests. "That's why I didn't become hateful of them." On seeing a group of women visiting the camp who continue to live under ISIS, Noor becomes yet more frustrated, pulling down their veils. She calls them the “the wives of those who killed my brother”. Hoping to stop any further conflict from developing in future, she then tries to integrate the children of both ISIS sympathising and opposing parents in the camp.

But on the outward journey from the frontline, Noor and her crew are reminded of how far Iraq must go before finding peace. "I didn't imagine it would turn out like this" she cries as she and her crew are caught up in a fatal road bomb. Shocking and pioneering, Women with Gunpowder Earrings is a story of immense hope and bravery in the face of radically violent Islamism.

Reviews and More

Women with Gunpowder Earrings (2018) on IMDb

LaurelSignes de Nuit IFF - Best Documentary
LaurelFajr Film Festival - Best Documentary
LaurelCinema Verite Festival - Best Feature-Length Documentary
LaurelThe Festival of Iranian Films - Best Documentary
LaurelMillenium Festival - Prix Spécial du Jury
LaurelDok Leipzig - Official Selection
LaurelLocarno IFF - Official Selection

The Producers

Director - Reza Farahmand

Iranian filmmaker Reza Farahmand was born in Khorasan in 1978. Having studied Agricultural Engineering at university, he went on to direct and edit Tajrish (2011) and Women with Gunpowder Earrings (2018), for which he also directed the cinematography. Farahmand’s work was recognised with an award at the Iranian Fair International Film Festival.

Making The Film

Iraqi journalist Noor Al Helli was reporting on the war between Iraq and Syria from its border region when she was forced to challenge her own impression of the conflict. Having seen herself as a civilian member of the anti-ISIS troops fighting radical Islamism, she began meeting impoverished women and children who were sympathisers of Islamic State and decided to document her experiences with them. In doing this, Al Helli hoped to help us better understand the sources of conflict in the Iraqi-Syrian war and to confront allegiance to the Salafist terror organisation in its adherents

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