Beautiful teenager Zahra tells her boyfriend about her family trip abroad, and he jokes that he won’t let her get married off overseas. Meanwhile, her younger sister Hoda auditions for Hamlet, surprising her teachers with a tomboy approach. At home, Zahra discovers some expensive gifts along with portraits of young men. When her mother finds her, Zahra realizes the gifts are for marriages the girls will be forced into. Horrified, Zahra sneaks out of her bedroom window. Hoda follows and Zahra tells her the truth before escaping to her boyfriend, abandoning Hoda. Zahra decides rashly to lose her virginity to her boyfriend to prove her love to him and take refuge at his place. Hoda, identifying with Hamlet, wanders Edinburgh and cuts off her long hair as her own way of protest. When they reunite at night, the sisters have each given up part of their girlhood. With much fear and doubt, they go back home. Their father is incensed but still determined to go abroad. Their mother admits the truth but Zahra reveals what she has done, bringing on her mother’s rage. Hoda has one last-ditch solution: a movement in the UK to stop forced marriages, asking young girls to carry metal spoons through airport metal detectors to signal authorities. But Zahra is unsure about getting their parents arrested. At the airport, mother, father, and daughters must all decide what is right for themselves and one another, with the fate of the family resting in each of their hands.
Born and raised in Iran, Bita Shafipour began her film career straight out of high school in 2000 as assistant to director Tahmineh Milani on her critically acclaimed film THE HIDDEN HALF. Shortly after, she attended USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She subsequently worked on several student and professional short and feature films in LA and in Iran. Her short narrative THE COLOR OF FRIEND (2006) starring Homayoun Ershadi (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012, The Kite Runner 2007, Taste of Cherry 1997) was premiered at LA Short Fest and nominated for best foreign short at the 5th Miami Short Film Festival. She studied screenwriting at UCLA and her feature script 7 DAYZ co-written by Gobi Rahimi and Chris Boyd was short-listed for Sundance Institute's Screenwriting Lab. Bita founded SOCIARTS Productions, producing socially conscious arts projects across Los Angeles, working with various artists and organizations such as LA County Museum of Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Craft and Folk Art Museum. She is the founding manager of Farhang Foundation's Short Film Festival, the largest short film festival dedicated to Iranian and Iran-inspired short films. Bita has worked with the award winning Iranian-American filmmaker Aryana Farshad co-producing her ambitious feature documentary about the life of Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi. Shot on location in Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey, this film is currently in Post-Production in Los Angeles.
Bita moved to Edinburgh in 2012 with her British partner and made her latest film LAST NIGHT IN EDIBURGH, a short drama co- written and produced by the Emmy award-winning screenwriter and producer Chris Boyd which has been nominated for several awards and won the BAFTA New Talent for Best Actress Hannah Ord and Best Director Award at Seattle Short Film Festival . Bita is a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. She has taught Film Production Management at Edinburgh Napier University and currently teaches Directing at UCLA Extension and USC School of Cinematic Arts. IMDB.com.
While reading about cases of child and forced marriages in the developing world, I came across a shocking number of cases of forced marriages in the UK and many other European countries. In 2013 alone an estimated 8,000 women and children from the UK were forced to marry, while only 1,301 of them were reported to the Forced Marriage Unit. Nobody really knows the exact number of cases, because most of these women and children never report their cases to the police or even to NGOs, fearing their parents will be arrested.
While a lot of these marriages take place in the UK and are never reported, a good percentage of them take place abroad during school holidays. Forced marriage at home already takes a massive psychological toll, and the added pressures of going across the water to another country and living with a family you’ve never known make the situation still worse. The consequences of forced and child marriages are almost always unfortunate and sometimes utterly tragic.
Further research brought to my attention the work of several NGOs working to prevent forced marriages as well as to help the survivors. One of these organizations came up with a very clever idea to help the girls who call their helpline fearing their trip abroad may be a plan by their parents or guardians to marry them off. They advise young women and girls to carry a spoon in their underwear at the airport as a last resort to stop their trip. The authorities are notified when they go through airport metal detectors. Airport security teams know about this code and will handle the matter with much care and attention.
When my co-writer and producer Chris Boyd and I decided to make a short film about this topic, we really wanted to know what it would be like to be the girls going through such a shocking experience. We wanted to really feel for these two sisters who are born and raised in Edinburgh, grow up Scottish and British, and lead uneventful lives until they are faced with a sudden and unexpected challenge: to become women over-night. We also really wanted to understand the parents, and see the world from their perspective. They truly believe that their children will be happier in a different society where they can easily marry up and have everything provided for them. We did not want to point our fingers at a specific culture, country, or religion. Forced marriages are common in many parts of the world and we wanted to address this issue wherever it may be found. We believe all countries including the UK are equally responsible for putting an end to this practice.
- Bita Shafipour
For more information on Forced Marriages in the UK and across the globe please CLICK HERE.