Zeina Daccache is a Lebanese Drama Therapist who took cameras into a Beirut prison where she filmed women who were accused of crimes, and then held for years with no trial dates, and therefore no convictions. Meanwhile their children grow up with no mother, and their mothers grow old without the support of their daughters.
A stunning, heart-wrenching, and beautifully told documentary! (JLH: 4.5/5)
Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Rich like this film too 🙂
Scheherazade’s Diary is a new film by Lebanese filmmaker and drama therapist Zeina Daccache. Unlike the first part of Daccache’s proposed Lebanese prison-system trilogy (12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary), Scheherazade’s Diary is all about women. It is set in Baabda, (a women’s prison in Lebanon), which is why it is also known by the alternate title Scheherazade in Baabda .
Scheherazade’s Diary follows a group of women telling their heartbreaking stories while participating in a drama therapy project. They are accused of crimes ranging from adultery to drug trafficking to killing their husbands. But in most cases, even though these women have already been in prison for two or three years (or more), they have never been tried, let alone convicted! They are stuck in limbo, waiting in Baabda pending legal proceedings which never seemed to occur.
The way the women in Baabda learned to bond with each other, carving out a zone of safety from their abusive husbands and fathers, was both tragic and fascinating. Most of the women missed not being able to nurture their children and be there for them. They were especially worried about how their daughters were faring in their absence. On the other hand, in many cases, sons had been told that their mothers were dead. When some of the sons were finally convinced to come visit, they confessed that they did not remember their mothers at all.
Daccache’s determination to give these women their own voices back has an amazing effect on their confidence. Individual women come to self-consciousness for the first time when asked who they think they are as people and as women. For the first time in their lives, many of these women realize they actually do have stories to tell.
One of the best aspects of Scheherazade’s Diary is the way Daccache uses the costume function. She had very simple costumes designed for her “Scheherazades” — black jumpsuits with belts around the midriff that were coordinated with turbaned headpieces. The black, flowing jumpsuit with a red belt and a red headdress (or a purple belt and a purple headdress, or whatever) gave the “Scheherazades” a feminine quality, and added a dramatic burst of color into an otherwise drab environment.
In the Q&A after our screening (which was held on the final night of New York’s 2014 Human Rights Watch Film Festival), I had an opportunity to ask Daccache about these costumes. She told me the first issue she had to confront as a filmmaker was head coverings for the Muslim inmates. Because she was filming in Lebanon, her challenge (as she described it) was to bridge the populations: the Muslim women needed to wear costumes that would cover their hair, but the Christian women rejected head coverings for exactly that reason. What to do?
Then Daccache remembered the stories told by Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, which gave her the idea to call her participants “The Scheherazades,” and to costume them in a way that would be remind people of the way that Scheherazade is traditionally depicted in Middle Eastern art. After that, it was simple. All of the women who wanted to be Scheherazades had to wear the costume of Scheherazade.
From my POV, this was an inspired moment of extremely effective filmmaking. The uniformity of costume has a feminizing effect, emphasizing that the common element in this film is not only that all of these speakers are women, but women who have been robed by fate of their essential femininity (especially maternally and sexually).
Scheherazade’s Diary is a very moving film. I urge you to seek it out, and see it as soon as you can. Richard and I agree that while we have seen other documentaries about prison drama therapy programs, we’ve never seen one this well-done before.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/16/14)
Photos: The Scheherazades in performance.
Q #1: Does Scheherazade’s Diary pass the Bechdel Test?
Scheherazade’s Diary is totally focused on women telling their personal stories to other women. There are very few men in this film. Sometimes the women talk about their husbands and sons, but more often they express their concerns about their daughters (who are growing up without the protective presence of their mothers), and their mothers (who are growing old without the support of their daughters).
Q #2: Who was Scheherazade?
From Wikipedia: Scheherazade was a legendary Persian queen and the heroine of One Thousand and One Nights.
Every day, King Shahryar would marry a new virgin, and dispatch the previous day’s wife to be beheaded. He had killed 1,000 women by the time he was introduced to Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter. Against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the king. Once in the king’s chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved sister, Dinarzade, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night.
King Shahryar listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So, the king spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night.
So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. So the king again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.
And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the end of last night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and so he spared her life, and made her his queen.
Sculpture “Bust of Scheherazade” found on Google.