NYLA Talks

The ethics of storytelling with Alexandria Bombach


How do you tell a story of someone who went through a trauma and not let that experience define the person?

The guest of this week’s episode, American filmmaker Alexandria Bombach asked herself this question when she met Nadia Murad, an activist for Yazidi rights and the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. 

With her film On her shoulders, Bombach created an intimate portrait of a woman who had an enormous responsibility to tell the world of the Yazidi genocide commited by ISIS. More than 4,000 people have died and more than 10,000 were kidnapped or held in captivity. Among them were hundreds of women who were forced into sexual slavery. Nadia was one of them.

But as Alexandria told us in this interview, her film is as much about us, as it is about Nadia Murad. Director asks us hard questions: what does it really mean to be an activist? Are we genuinely willing to support activist’s cause or do we just want to take a picture with her?

The film was awarded for the best documentary directing at the Sundance film festival and was nominated for the documentary Grand Jury Prize.

Our contributor journalist and filmmaker Ieva Balsiūnaitė met Alexandria Bombach at New York this November to discuss her approach to filmmaking. This week, we are sharing their conversation.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded Nadia Murad „for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.“  (still from the film)

Alexandria Bombach at New York Documentary film festival DOC NYC this November (by Carlos Sanfer)

Journalist and filmmaker Ieva Balsiūnaitė at Nanook’s studio in Vilnius (by Audra Skuodaitė)

Podcast episode hosted and edited by Karolis Vyšniauskas, original music composed by Martynas Gailius and Viktoras Urbaitis. Sound recorded at the National Library of Martynas Mažvydas by Aistė Baltraitytė.

Further Reading:

On Her Shoulders: The Making of an Activist by Jason Osder, Documentary.org

Further listening:

Zina Hamu, a Yazidi genocide survivor in Klaipėda

Support Nadia Murad’s initiative at Nadia’s Initiative


NYLA podcast is produced by Nanook journalists’ collective in Vilnius. Each week we bring you a new episode analysing cultural and social forces of modern society. Our English episodes can be found here:

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