Thirst for learning defies forced marriage in film

Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:35am EST
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By Brian Rohan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Life hangs in the balance in a new film about an Iraqi girl whose father betrothes her to a local sheikh, leaving her with a very adult choice: submit and forget dreams of education or risk death in the name of honor.

In "Niloofar," the determined 13-year-old is caught in a trap where opportunism and tradition push families to propagate customs that lead to their own regret -- unless individuals step up to tempt fate.

Filmmaker Sabine El Gemayel said she based the script on a girl she met while growing up in Lebanon, who, like protagonist Niloo, was confronted by forced marriage. But she said the issue the movie addresses is larger than a single region.

"It's a humanist film that's critical of a specific tradition, not a culture ... I did not want to make a film that was anti-Arab," she told Reuters after a screening of the solemn movie at the Berlin film festival.

Gemayel said while the stakes may be higher in the Middle East, pressure to marry for money is not uncommon elsewhere.

"It's socio-economic pressure, and it happens across societies, also in the upper classes and whenever family wealth is in play," the 37-year-old, first-time feature director said.


Statistics on forced marriage are few and far between, but the U.N. estimates more than 60 million women in developing countries were married before the age of 18, with the practice most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.   Continued...