No, Feo Aladag admits with a laugh, she never intended to become an expert on the horrifying practice of honor killings. But if she was going to make a movie that dramatized the subject, she figured she better know her stuff.
"When you make a film for seven years, it's a journey and now, suddenly, people think you're an expert on honor killings, on German politics and immigration policies," she says, referring to her film, When We Leave, which opens in limited release today (1/28/11). "You educate yourself because you've got to be accountable. So you better have done your homework before you create a world with issues you want to convey.
"I don't consider myself an expert but I've learned a lot by traveling with this film. You just keep reading - and people keep bringing things to your attention. It's not just the Middle East. I've heard from women in South America and India. It's an old, archaic tradition."
A star of German cinema, Aladag makes her directing debut with When We Leave, the story of a Turkish woman who leaves her marriage in Istanbul to flee an abusive husband. She takes their son with her to Germany, where her family has emigrated - but her family throws her out to avoid the shame of a daughter who has left her husband.
Aladag made When We Leave in Germany and Turkey, to examine several issues, including immigration policies and the phenomenon of honor killings - practiced under Sharia law - which allow men to kill their wives, sisters or daughters for dishonoring their families for a variety of offenses (including being the victim of rape). The practice is not just a blight on the Middle East, she says, but in countries where Middle Eastern immigrants have migrated.
"In Germany, it varies between 24 and 32 a year, from 2000 and 2010," she says. "According to the United Nations, globally, it's at least 5,000 a year. But the numbers suggest that it could actually be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000.
"Why is it so hard to get accurate figures? In a lot of countries, females are not registered at birth; there's no record of them. And a lot of these killings are covered up as suicide. Plus, in countries where they practice Sharia law, it's not a crime."
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