2021-02-02 20:47Press release

Hogir Hirori wins Best Director for Sabaya at Sundance

Sabaya. Photo © Ginestra Film / Lolav MediaSabaya. Photo © Ginestra Film / Lolav Media

Swedish director Hogir Hirori has won Best Director for his film Sabaya in the World Cinema Documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival. The film, which tells the story of a group of volunteers in Syria rescuing Yazidi women held by ISIS as sex slaves, had its world premiere at the festival. Also, Swedish co-production Flee by Jonas Poher Rasmussen has been awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the same category.

With just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and their group risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya (sex slaves) in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria. Their work is portrayed by Swedish filmmaker Hogir Hirori, who has been awarded the prize for Best Director at this year’s edition of the Sundance Film Festival.   

​– This is huge! I am so happy and grateful for the spotligt that this award will shine on the film and its important message. The award means so much to both me and the whole film team, but I would like to dedicate it to the real heroes – the brave Yazidi women and girls that have had to endure ISIS’s brutal abuse, and The Yazidi Homecenter for their outstanding efforts in saving them, says Hogir Hirori.

Motivation of the jury: ”We were deeply impressed by the courage and skill of this filmmaker.
We also loved the way that in the midst of horror and fear there were moments of joy and tenderness. It's a dramatic film that keeps you on the edge of your seat (...) Consummate, humanistic storytelling despite filmmaking under fire.”

Sabaya had its world premiere at the Sundance festival, and has since then received rave reviews in the trades. “Tense and riveting. Remarkable access and nerves of steel (on the part of both the subjects and of filmmaker Hogir Hirori) makes for a riveting documentary which is as tense as it is revealing” (Screen International), ”This life-threatening work is documented with remarkable calmness and composure, even beauty” (Sight and Sound).

Hogir Hirori is one of Sweden’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers. Born in 1980 in Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan, he fled to Sweden in 1999 and is now based in Stockholm. He is a freelance photographer, editor and director and runs production company Lolav Media. Hirori’s most recent work, The Deminer, had its world premiere at IDFA 2017, where it received the Special Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film was later nominated for two Swedish Guldbagge Awards (Best Picture and Best Documentary) and has since travelled to more than 50 international film festivals and aired on more than 30 broadcasters worldwide.

Sabaya marks the third installment in Hirori’s trilogy of documentaries that portray the consequences of brutal war and the fate of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq, following The Girl Who Saved My Life (2016) and The Deminer (2018).  

Sabaya was produced by Antonio Russo Merenda, Ginestra Film and Hogir Hirori, Lolav Media, with support from the Swedish Film Institute, Documentary Film Commissioner Juan Pablo Libossart. International sales are handled by Dogwoof.


Also at Sundance, Flee by Jonas Poher Rasmussen has won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. The film was also in the 2020 Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection.

Flee tells the extraordinary true story of a man, Amin, on the verge of marriage which compels him to reveal his hidden past for the first time.  A secret he has been hiding for over twenty years threatens to ruin the life he has built for himself. He recounts his dramatic journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan to Denmark. Told mostly through animation, Flee weaves together a tapestry of images and memories to tell the story of a young man grappling with his traumatic past in order to find his true self and the meaning of home.

Flee is a co-production between Denmark, Norway, Sweden and France with Charlotte Most, Mostfilm as Swedish co-producer, and with support from the Swedish Film Institute, Documentary Film Commissioner Juan Pablo Libossart. TriArt Film is the Swedish distributor, with Cinephil handling international sales.

Flee has also been selected for the Nordic Documentary Competition at the ongoing Göteborg Film Festival, where it will have its digital festival premiere on February 6.

Read more about the Swedish Films at Sundance here.

For further info, please contact Sara Rüster, Festival Manager at the Swedish Film Institute: sara.ruster@sfi.se, +46 8 665 11 41

About The Swedish Film Institute

The Swedish Film Institute is a collective voice for film in Sweden, and a meeting-place for experiences and insights that elevate film on all levels. We preserve and make available Sweden’s film heritage, work to educate children and young people in film and moving images, support the production, distribution and screening of valuable film, and represent Swedish film internationally. A broad diversity of narratives establishes discussions and insights that strengthen the individual and our democracy. Together, we enable more people to create, experience and be enriched by film.


Jan Göransson
Head of Press
Jan Göransson
Per Perstrand
Communications Officer – Press
Per Perstrand