Theirs is a story of desperation, of murder, genocide, violence, fear, imprisonment, escape, sorrow and hope.
Sunday, Londoners have a chance to catch a glimpse of what the Yazidis people experienced before and after they fled their homes in Iraq and Syria to escape an ISIS genocide with the world premiere of the short film, Angel Peacock, at Wolf Performance Hall.
The 25-minute film tells the story of 12-year-old Dawod, who now lives in London with his mother Naro – two of about 400 Yazidis who’ve settled here — and his struggle to adjust to a new country while coping with his past.
The National Film Board of Canada, in collaboration with the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre, is bringing five short films for the screening, including a second one featuring London-based refugees, Resilience.
“There has been lots of films and media coverage about the refugee crisis worldwide,” said Angel Peacock director Peter Svatek, in an email from Milan where he is working on a new project.
“But almost all of it is about how the West feels or the political views. I wanted to make a film that would show the refugee experience through the eyes of a refugee. I think if we could only put ourselves in their shoes, realizing but for circumstance, the same thing could be happening to us, we’d have more understanding of the real issues. I chose a Yazidi story because of the genocide perpetrated against them by ISIS and I picked Dawod because I thought a child refugee is so obviously an innocent victim of his story. And also because half of the world’s refugees are children.”
The Yazidis are a small Kurdish-speaking ethno-religious community that dates back centuries and are found in Armenia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. In 2014, ISIS launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing that targeted the Yazidis and led to the deaths of an estimated 10,000 men and the “abduction, imprisonment, rape and trafficking of thousands of women and children.
Dawod and his mother were captured and held captive for nine months before escaping and spending nine days in the wilderness without food or water before making their way to a refugee camp and then London in January, 2018.
“Generally, especially with the films Resilience and Angel Peacock, we hope to build some empathy, understanding and awareness around the refugee issue,” said Jennifer Sandu, capacity building specialist at CCLC.
“These are really human stories and we have to build a community together. These people may be refugees, but they’re Londoners now. We’ll all have a brighter future if we build our community together and bring everyone together. These films show the resilience, the courage and the determination of these families to whom we’ve provided a safe home and opportunity for a future. Refugees contribute a lot to our community.”
The other films being screened include: Hand. Line. Cod. a 13-minutes film about a “secret mission” on Fogo Island; Ice Breakers, tells a hockey story in 15 minutes; Balakrishna, at 15 minutes, is about a meeting between a boy in Nova Scotia and an elephant in 1967; and Resilience featuring London-based refugees and gives a snapshot of kids “finding new ground inside London’s CCLC.”
In Angel Peacock (the names of a holy being of the Yazidi religion), Dawod is seen as a somewhat confused, troubled yet often typical boy attending school, break dancing with groups of boys in what appears to be an introduction to Western culture and playing soccer.
In a brief interview with an interpreter, Dawod, 13, now in Grade 8 at a London school, and his mother said they are “thankful” to be in Canada, but remain concerned about his father who is still missing and an older brother who applied as a refugee to come to Canada but has been rejected to date.
“I am so happy and thankful to be here,” said Dawod. “But if my brother can’t come, I will go back and live with my brother.”
Said director Svatek about his motivation to make the film: “We hear so much nonsense and politicized argument about refugees I felt the one thing most often lacking is plain old empathy and compassion.”