TBFF 2015: Sound of Torture

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Meron Estefanos sits at a sparse desk in her home in Sweden conducting her Voices of Eritreans radio show. The Eritrean ex-pat is speaking with a caller over the phone whose been kidnapped in the Sinai Desert. The woman’s Bedouin captors torture her on air hoping that the screams of pain will encourage her relatives, or the listeners of Estefanos’ show, to pay the ransom request of $25,000.

Sound of Torture is a harrowing tale of horrific abuse, rape, psychological and emotion torture endured by the Eritrean people attempting to escape a brutal military regime in their homeland. The Eritreans that managed to escape in prior years went to Europe to seek refuge. However, the European nations closed their borders leaving a trek across the Sinai Desert to Israel as the only way out. During the journey across the desert, Eritrean men, women and children are hunted by Bedouins captors and taken to torture houses where atrocities are inflicted.

Director Keren Shayo trains her lens on the plight of several different Eritrean nationals, but focuses primarily on two women: Hariti, who was just about to give birth when captured, and Timnit, the desperate voice on the other end of phone at the film’s opening. The central figure linking these two women is the aforementioned Estefanos, who wandered into the desperate struggles of these people almost by accident. One day she had a caller on her show bring up the situation in the terror camps. After Estefanos questioned the validity of such claims, she was stunned when the caller directed her to a phone number that connected her to one of the camp prisoners.

The narrative sharpens when Meron Estefanos decides that she has to see these events unfold. Once on the ground in Tel Aviv she meets members of the Eritrean community, including several people that she regularly talked to during her show, and attempts, disguised in traditional Muslim attire, to venture out to the areas where the torture camp are located. Along her journey to uncover more information about Hariti and Timnit’s stories, Estefanos encounters various remnants of abuse including various torn garments.

The members of the Eritrean community are happy to be in Israel, but their fates are still uncertain. They may no longer endure torture, however the physical and psychological scars, the latter captured through body language, are still evident. The Eritrean refugees have no status in Israeli. Those without work permits are known as “infiltrators” and are subject to deportation back to Eritrea.

Sound of Torture is a detailed look at a story that is rarely publicized in the media. Keren Shayo’s documentary features real conversations and interviews with Eritrean ex-pats and recordings of conversation with victims while they are still in prison. She highlights and contrasts the different fates of Eritrean’s like Estefanos who were able to establish a comfortable life in Europe and those who endured hell to get to Israel only to have the threat of deportation constantly over their heads. The film is a powerful account of cries for help that have fallen on deaf ears for far too long. Sound of Torture is a film that I highly recommend.