Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2018 6:56 pm 
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ERIKA COHN: THE JUDGE (2017) - SFIFF

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KHOLOUD AL-FAKIH IN THE JUDGE

A female voice in female matters

This brief documentary tells the story of the first female judge of Palestine's sharia court, the first two, actually. Four have been appointed before the documentary ends in 2017, after a very different period of undermining, probably by corrupt methods, of their position. The Islamic sharia court: isn't that as conservative as you can get? Maybe not quite. At least this shows that in these times, a wedge has worked in to offset male domination. A man under this Islamic system can still have four wives. But he'll have a pretty hard time doing so if Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih is the authority consulted about it.

So what does this mean? And how did Al-Faqih and her fellow female sharia judge also appointed, Asmahan Al-Wahidi, get past conservative Islamic scholar Husam Al-Deen Afanah, who denounced the appointments, speaks disapprovingly to the camera of all this, and issued a fatwa when one woman was appointed? (A fatwa isn't normally a death threat, the Salman Rushdie case notwithstanding. It can merely just be a stern expression of disapproval by a religious authority.)

Well, we don't know all the details. We hear many on-the-street opinions, and there are a number that do favor women, perhaps more that are the reverse. (There is a dearth of sophisticated, educated opinions among those Cohn samples.) When we see and hear Kholoud, she is convincing. She is solidly authoritative, her comportment warm and pleasant, but firm and convincing. We don't hear anything from her colleague Asmahan Al-Wahidi. But we hear plenty from the Palestinian Chief Justice of the Sharia Court responsible for these first two female appointments, Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, whom Kholoud originally had petitioned to consider women sharia judges, arguing that the Hanafi school of Islam followed in Palestine does not forbid them, however revolutionary some authorities and members of the public considered it. Sheikh Al-Tamimi decided to let women compete for the post, via the necessary exams, which they passed, leading to their appointment in 2009.

We hear plenty from Kholoud, too, and see her young son and daughter when she is appointed, the son waving an iPad and declaring proudly (in Arabic: the only words in English in this film are the few spoken by Palestinian female diplomat Hanan Ashrawi), "Hey world! My mom's a judge! And my dad's a lawyer!" We also see her in action quickly deciding divorce and support and domestic violence cases - her purview - with good-natured firmness. We are surprised to learn that Chief Justice Al-Tamini has four wives and twelve children.

The trouble comes suddenly when, after several years of doing their jobs well, the two female sharia judges received a terrible blow. One year from his appointment o the two women, Chief Justice Al-Tamini was forced to resign in retaliation, and replaced by a Sheikh Yousef Al-Dais, an uninlightened figurehead of manipulators who immediately cancelled judicial qualifying exams for women, and transferred all small cases to the bigger sharia court in Rammallah, claiming that the female judges were in too much danger. The women were restricted to nothing bu administrative cases, rubber-stamping documents, not making judicial decisions. Kholoud says this was "hell."

She tried to get around the attempt to block a woman's divorce by ordering the husband to have a mental exam by public health authorities. They found him to be bipolar and dangerous. On that basis Kholoud could order him separated from his wife. Unfortuntely, this proved to be right, and when the higher Justice overruled it, and allowed the husband in a court together with his wife, he attacked and killed her - she died right in Kholoud's arms. Then in a TV court scene, Al-Tammam pledged to "punish" someone for this tragedy. Kholoud wrote to him that he was the one to blame.

It seems sharis chief justices in Palestine don't live forever like U.S. Supreme Court Justices, because in a few years Al-Youssef retired, and a new Chief Justice, Dr. Mahmoud Aa-Habbash was appointed. His first round of appointments were five men. But he allowed the smaller courts to carry out decisions again, and the two female judges were back in action. In 2015, Tahir Hammad was appointed first female In 2015 Tahir Hammad was appointed first Palestinian woman marriage officiant, a judicial rank. By 2017, the fourth Palestinian woman sharia judge was appointed, Sireen Anabousi.

So it's a slow back and forth process, but it's moving forward. And not really surprising. There have been Palestinian women judges for criminal cases since the Seventies, and Arab women lawyers. But the Islamic world is a place of machismo. And so these wedges, and the milestone represented by Kholoud Al-Fiqah as the pioneer woman sharia judge, are very important. It's a pity in Erika Cohn's effort to make Judge Al-Faqih into a kind of rock star of Islamic female authority figures, she blurs the details about the other women involved. This is a vivid film but not a subtle or thorough one.

The Judge, mins., 76 mins. (the Arabic title القاضية al-qādhiya is given), debuted Sept. 2017 at Toronto, also at DOC NYC, IDFA Amsterdam, CPX:DOX, several others, including San Francisco Apr. 2018. US theatrical release Apr. 13, 2018, . Metascore 69%.
[B]SFIFF SHOWTIMES:
Friday, April 6, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at Roxie Theater
Saturday, April 7, 2018 a 3:30 p.m. at BAMPFA
Friday, April 13, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. at YBCA Screening Room

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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