A harrowing, provocative and powerful film, Chloe Fairweather’s Dying to Divorce examines the links between gender-based violence and the political situation in Turkey and driven movingly by a series of real-life stories of women who have suffered have suffered terrible abuse at the hands of their husbands. It is a film that balances anger with sadness, but also highlights the fights for justice, often apparently against all odds.
The film is the UK’s official entry for Best International Feature Film for the Academy Awards.
Dying to Divorce opens in dramatic style. A young woman walks along a round before describing what happened to her. “I heard someone running up to me from behind,” she says. “I turned around…it was my ex-husband. I said nothing, did nothing – then he began shooting at me.” He was a man who could not believe a woman would leave him and then acted with such violence because it was an insult to his manhood and pride.
The spine of the film is Istanbul-based lawyer Ipek Bozkurt, who details the numbers of women killed in Turkey, a country where it appears the state is actively hostile to women. In 2015 it was recorded that one in three Turkish women have experienced domestic violence and the estimated number of femicides approached 300, with Bozkurt stating:
”This country protects murderers who would like to punish their wives, their daughters, their girlfriends who want to have different things in life than they did before.”
She is involved with feminist advocacy group ‘We Will Stop Femicide Platform’, with the film following two harrowing stories as well as detailing political and social changes in the country.
Married off according to traditional custom at the age of 14, Arzu was shot by a shotgun in both her arms and legs. Her legs – or what remained of them – had to be amputated and after multiple operations she is still struggling to use her arms. Her father displays photographs of her awful wounds while at hospital, with the film following her battles with Bozkurt to have her husband jailed and Arzu see her children returned to her.
In a phone call from prison her husband Ahmet Boztas says: “I wouldn’t have gone so far, but she insulted my pride and honour.
The film also follows Kubra, a former Bloomberg news presenter, who was hit four times on the head by her husband two days after giving birth, causing a brain haemorrhage and levaing her struggling to move and regain the power of speech. He denies the incident completely (with his defence team claiming her haemorrhage is due to a complication of giving birth) and will not allow her access to her young daughter Alara.
The failed Turkish coup of 2016 ended up in creating an environment for voices to be shut down argues Bozkurt. The film features footage of the coup, of subsequent protests and of frustrations and anger as lawyers are taken into custody by the state. As the film notes, since the attempted coup of 2016 more than 1,500 lawyers have been prosecuted and hundreds imprisoned without trial, while In 2019 alone, more than 470 women were killed in Turkey, their names detailed on the screen as ends.
Dying to Divorce astutely balances human stories with awful statistics, blending harrowing intimacy with dark details of fevered rallies for President Erdoğan, who has openly criticised the feminist movement, but also celebrating the women who continue to fight a system currently stacked against them.
UK-Turkey, 2021, 81mins
Dir Chloe Fairweather
Production Dying to Divorce Ltd
International sales Java Films
Producers Chloe Fairweather, Sinead Kirwan, Seda Gökçe, Özge Sebzeci
Cinematography Lilia Sellami
Editors Andrea Cuadrado, Paul Dosaj
Music Andy Cowton
(First published in Business Doc Europe)