The YPJ-Women’s Protection Unit, a division of the Kurdish resistance against ISIS, has been a key element in the war against terror since their inception five years ago. Unlike some of their male counterparts who also fight to liberate the oppressed in Syria, these women did not pick up arms in hopes of glory. They did so out of necessity.

For 30-year-old Commander Arian, the focus of Alba Sotorra’s film Commander Arian – A Story of Women, War and Freedom, freedom not only comes from purging the city of Kobane of its ISIS infestation, but also instilling a sense of empowerment in the female battalion she leads. She fights on behalf of the countless women who have been sexually assaulted and murdered at the hands of the men and boys swayed by jihadist ideology.

Determined to be a soldier from a young age, Commander Arian’s war takes an unexpected turn when she is shot multiple times in a surprise enemy attack. It is in her lengthy recovery period where Sotorra’s extensive access is most revealing. Juxtaposing Commander Arian’s mission to liberate Kobane prior to her wounds with her lengthy recovery, as she struggles to get back to fighting form, at one point she states “I must live. There’s still a lot of work to do,” Sotorra constructs a riveting and empowering tale.

Sotorra avoids the political rhetoric and propaganda and keeps her camera squarely focused on the women. We observe them on the battle field, the impacts of war on their moral, and their struggle to break free of a society that wants them to only focus on marriage. Commander Arian’s relentless dedication to the fight and instilling a sense of independence in her female colleagues is inspiring.

Commander Arian – A Story of Women, War and Freedom is a film that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the strength within women that neither men nor war can squash.

Sunday, April 29, 6:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Monday, April 30, 10:30 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 6, 6:15 PM, Aga Khan Museum