Sponsored by Empower Women Media, the film competition elevates women’s voices as they explore the importance of inclusion and multi-faith societies.
LOS ANGELES — Strength Despite Everything by Dilpak Megeed (Kurdistan, Iraq) was awarded the grand prize in the 2023 Women’s Empowerment and Religious Freedom Film Competition. Unity by Azadeh Nikzadah (Iran and U.S.) took 1st runner-up, and Samira’s Camera by Paula Kweskin (U.S. and Afghanistan), was awarded 2nd runner-up.
The grand prize winner receives a $3,000 cash prize, 1st runner-up $1,500, and 2nd runner-up $500.
Many of the media projects submitted to the film competition came from women who took part in Empower Women Media’s Training Fellowship. For six months, these talented women from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan learned about Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and received training on how to produce contextualized short films to reach their communities through storytelling.
Strength Despite Everything is an observational documentary about Eman Abdullah, a Yazidi woman victimized by ISIS who fights to empower women and bring justice.
Unity, inspired by the Woman, Life, Freedom movement, calls all supporters of democratic change in Iran to unite and work together, despite differences.
In the animated short, Samira’s Camera, a young mother uprooted from her home by the Taliban spends her days traveling the streets of Kabul capturing stories most are too frightened to tell.
“Religious-based violence is on the rise,” said Shirin Taber, Director of Empower Women Media. “Women often suffer the most. In this year’s film competition, the stories not only address taboo subjects like forced marriage and genocide, but the benefit of religious freedom to build thriving societies. We believe this film initiative is essential to build public awareness about women’s rights and religious liberty in the region for the years to come.”
In addition to the top three films, Hope to the Hopeless by Heather Mercer (Kurdistan, Iraq and U.S.) won the Community Development Award. Safar Ali Danish and Shakira Hazara (Pakistan) won the Inclusion Award for their film, I Stood Among the Bodies.
Empower Women Media invited nine highly respected judges to review the short films, including Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; Marjan Keypour of the Middle East Institute; Charmaine Hedding of the Shai Fund; Jeremy Barker of the Religious Freedom Institute; Annie McKinney of the IRF Secretariat; Anila Ali of the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council; and other leading voices for religious freedom.
“Short films are easily accessible, yet powerful vehicles for education and advocacy around difficult subjects,” said judge Marjan Keypour, Scholar at the Middle East Institute and Founder and Director of ARAM-Iran. “Empower Women Media provides a unique platform that amplifies the voices of marginalized populations whose narratives are too often ignored or misunderstood.”
“These short films demonstrate through storytelling the economic value and social benefits of how a robust religiously diverse society have tremendous benefits for all,” said judge Charmaine Hedding, president of the Shai Fund.
The winning films will screen before civil society and faith leaders at the Global Campaign for Women’s Marrakesh Forum in Morocco, June 6-7.
This is the sixth annual Religious Freedom Film Competition sponsored by Empower Women Media. For more information about the short films, female media producers, and the Marrakesh Forum June 6-7, contact Empower Women Media Director, Shirin Taber, at [email protected] or www.empowerwomen.media. To watch the films, visit Empower Women Media YouTube channel.
Advocate Award Winners: My Faith, My Choice by Loureen Ayyoub (Iran and U.S.), Beauty for Ashes by Lily Meschi (Iran and U.S.), Women, Life, Freedom by Maryam Farahzadi (Iran and U.S.), How to Support the Freedom Movement in Iran by Erica Kasraie (Iran and U.S.), For Our Freedom by Bernadett Poolis (Iran and U.S.), Assyrians by Karmella Borashan (Iran and U.S.), Iranians are Protesting by Mehran Sanei (Iran and U.K.), Freedom to Change by Hedieh Mirahmadi (Iran and U.S.), Yearning by Parastoo Poortaheri (Iran and Cyprus), and Freedom Fighters of Afghan by Sharon Angel (India and U.S.)
Empower Women Media
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