Utah native Erika Cohn was teaching film in Israel and Palestine via a Rotary scholarship when she met the subject of her film “The Judge” for the first time. She was at a conference with a friend when Palestine’s first female Shari’a judge, Kholoud Faqih, walked into the room and took her breath away, Cohn told the crowd after a showing of her film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series.
“She had this unbelievable charisma and presence that just radiated about the room,” Cohn said. After the two women spoke, Faqih invited Cohn to visit her courtroom. The filmmaker showed up to the Shari’a courts with her camera and her conversational Arabic, eventually gaining access. (“I was underestimated,” she said.) While she occasionally ran into trouble accessing the courts (especially when the Chief Justice changed), she knew she had to persevere because she wanted to tell Faqih’s story.
“I know that this woman’s story is incredible and what is unfolding in her courtroom is the opportunity to see something that we will never get to experience,” Cohn said.
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While making the film, she realized that any time she strayed from Faqih’s story it didn’t work as well, which is why the background information about the court and the Israel-Palestine conflict is barebones. Instead of a primer on the conflict, she really wanted to make a film about Faqih’s struggles and successes so it would inspire women.
“[Faqih’s appointment has] created this conversation in Palestine that has had a ripple effect throughout the Middle East. There are women in Jordan who want to become judges,” Cohn said.
Ultimately, Faquih wanted to do the film because it was “an opportunity for her to encourage women’s leadership…without her having to be there. This is a way for her to reach larger audiences.”
Said Cohn, “I hope that women get to see more women in power as role models. It’s about representation.”
“The Judge” airs Nov. 19 on PBS’ “Independent Lens.”
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.