Keren Shayo’s harrowing exploration of the plight of African kidnap victims debuted at IDFA in 2013. Screenings have followed at Göteborg, One World, Human Rights Watch Munich, DocAviv, Bergen, Warsaw Jewish, and Amnesty International Human Rights fests, among others, as well as several cinematheque screenings throughout Israel.
While little-known in the West, the small African nation of Eritrea has been at the center of a humanitarian crisis that has had a particular impact on Israel. Refugees, fleeing a brutal dictatorship, once sought asylum in Europe, but with this avenue closed to them since 2006, their only hope is crossing the Sinai Desert through Egypt to petition for asylum in Israel – putting them at the mercy of Bedouins who have resorted to kidnapping as a lucrative source of revenue and even political leverage. So commonplace is the practice that Meron Estafonos, an Eritrean ex-patriate now living in Stockholm, has developed an entire radio program devoted to sharing stories of kidnap victims with the ex-patriate community to help raise awareness and money to secure their safe release. Shayo’s unsettling hour-long film follows Estafanos in her crusade, profiling the plight of several victims and the family members they contact, desperate for assistance lest they succumb to the violence their kidnappers inflict on them. It’s an often difficult film to watch – or, more appropriately, to listen to, as the Bedouins provide their captives with cell phones to issue their ransom demands and report on the abuses perpetrated upon them – but one hopes it helps generate awareness to crackdown on this reprehensible practice.