A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
In Pakistan, more than 1000 women perceived as having compromised the “honor” of their families are reported to be killed each year. Families are often pressured to forgive and absolve the aggressors, which allows them to return to the community.
Told through the lens of a love story, this Oscar-nominated documentary examines the tensions between modernism and tradition in Pakistan. Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Oscar-winning Saving Face), the film follows Saba, a young Pakistani woman, who has survived her attempted honor killing by her own family.
While exploring the complex issues facing women in Pakistan today, as well as clashing interpretations of women’s rights and family honor, and the pressures to forgive relatives for their crimes, the film chronicles the dramatic journey of a courageous young woman as she fights for her life, for her dignity and for justice.
In the Punjab region of Pakistan, a young man and woman fall in love and decide to marry. Saba, 18, and Qaiser, 21, have known each other for four years, and Saba’s father is helping plan their wedding. But Saba’s uncle protests the union, saying that Qaiser and his family are of lowly status, and the family ultimately forbids the marriage. Determined to be together, they are married at a local courthouse.
Just hours after the wedding, her father and uncle collect Saba at the home of her new in-laws. Driving her to the riverside, they beat and shoot her, leaving Saba for dead for bringing “dishonor” upon the family.
Miraculously, Saba survives, but cannot contact even her mother and sisters because of her act of rebellion. With her father and uncle awaiting trial in jail, she is pressured by the community to forgive and forget, and bring peace back to the neighborhood -- and release the sole breadwinner of her large family from prison. Since Pakistani law allows a woman’s next of kin to forgive her murderers, and because Pakistani women are often killed by relatives, this “forgiveness law” permits thousands of perpetrators to evade punishment.
A Girl in the River chronicles Saba’s reunification with both her husband and mother, her extensive surgery, a fierce court battle in which her pro bono human rights lawyer is dismissed, and the ultimate resolution of the case that frees her father and uncle.
The film has received an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Documentary Short, bringing attention to the human rights crisis surrounding honor killings in Pakistan.
HBO Documentary Films presents a SOC Films release; produced and directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; editor, Geof Bartz; co-producer, Haya Fatima Iqbal; executive producers, Tina Brown and Sheila Nevins; senior producer, Lisa Heller; director of photography, Asad Faruqi; original music by Wendy Blackstone.