Hush is a short documentary film about a shelter for Palestinian women, made by producer and photographer Samar Hazboun. It is a moving account of gender-based violence in Palestine, an issue usually sidelined by the political troubles in the region.
Samar Hazboun gives a frank portrayal of these women’s lives, the abuse they endure and the dangers they still face outside the shelter’s protective walls. It shows the viewer the harshness of their everyday life. Samar, who herself was born in Palestine, uses her photography as a means for change, aiming to shed light on issues that have so far been ignored.
Why did you choose this topic?
Gender-based violence has always been taboo in Arab countries. We are taught through some unwritten rules that violence and sexual crimes committed against women are not to be spoken of. As a child I always refused to simply accept this rule. Once you’re older you realise that, in fact, talking about this issue is a way bigger task than one would have thought it would be.
We are taught through some unwritten rules that violence and sexual crimes committed against women are not to be spoken of.
In 2010 I decided to work on this project, but faced a lot of rejection. In particular, getting access to the shelter was a major obstacle. It wasn’t easy to get permission to work inside of it; it took me more than a year to get a permit. I had to think a lot about how to portray these women and their stories — for example, how to take pictures of them without revealing their identities. It was also hard to find a way to present my work to an audience not yet ready to discuss these issues, or even admit the fact that they exist.
I chose this topic because I wanted to end the silence.
I chose this topic because I wanted to end the silence. I always thought that someone had to talk about this, bring it up and shed more light on it: we can’t always wait for others to do it. I think, in the end, it came naturally. I hope that we will see more of this in the future and that the documentary will only encourage others to start admitting that gender violence exists and start facing it.
What is it like to work with such a disturbing issue?
It was a big challenge for me to work on a project like this. You can do as much reading and research as you want, but in the end reality is different. I spent about two months working with these women on a daily basis. I did not expect to carry so much of a burden and create such beautiful connections with them. I think the major problem was that I’m not trained to work with victims of sexual abuse and violence. This put a lot of pressure on me when the women started revealing their stories to me.
I felt for a while that I was carrying someone else’s burden.
I felt for a while that I was carrying someone else’s burden. I would go home and cry or just sit in my room staring at nothing, trying to absorb the shock from the stories. Some of the women invested a lot of hope in me. At some point it felt as though they believed I had the power to help each and every single one of them. It used to break my heart knowing that the changes I brought to them and to the shelter were only minor ones, and that the solution to their problems was not something I could do on my own.
Do you think that you, as an artist, can have an impact?
I started photography a few years ago, focusing mainly on topics related to my own feelings, struggles and surroundings. At a solo exhibition in 2009 a good number of people showed up, many fascinated by the images. While I was observing these people, I started wondering what they took back home after looking at the pictures. Can an exhibition impact them in any way, other than just a visual experience?
It used to break my heart knowing that the changes I brought to them and to the shelter were only minor ones, and that the solution to their problems was not something I could do on my own.
It was then that I decided to take advantage of the attention I was getting and transform it into a ”learning” experience for my audience. My first project challenged the stereotypical image the West has of Palestinian women. It got a lot of attention and confirmed that I was heading down the right path.
How has the film been received?
So far the project has received positive feedback, which I honestly did not expect. I’m still expecting to face a lot of criticism once I show my work in Arab countries. It has been exhibited in London in September and will be shown again in November as part of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
“Hush” will also be covered in a UN newsletter on gender-based violence in Palestine this year. The project was only finished in September so it’s still fresh and is yet to receive more attention/criticism.
In the end, since we are undergoing major revolutions in the Arab world, why not throw my project out there? It’s the perfect timing for change; we have waited enough and have been ”hushing” this subject for way too long.