Ok, just wanted to get that out of the way in case I get a bit long winded in the review, and you were just wondering whether it is worth it or not. It is.
This film is a bit bittersweet. The number one reason being that it was filmed right before the Arab Spring, and before the Syrian civil war began. The Syria that you see in this film no longer exists. Much of the parts of Damascus that this was filmed in may lie untouched by the bombing and fighting. The teacher that this film profiles, Houda al Habash seems to be a bit well off, her brother is a parliamentarian, her husband seems to make a good living, and they can afford to send their child to U.A.E. for college. But many parts of Damascus, and throughout the whole country have been devastated. At the end of the film, they reveal that Houda and her family have left the country because of the fighting. Even those who stay have been changed by the war. It is heartbreaking beyond anything I can imagine.
So you are watching a documentary which is about a school which no longer exists. When Houda fled, her school was closed and remains closed. Her aim to empower women is being put on hold, and instead the characters you see in this film are fighting for their lives. Or their way of life at least.
As far as documentaries go, this isn't going to be as exciting as some American documentary films you may see. It is part of the PBS POV series. It is basically a slice of life. You really get a feeling for what Syria is like. When one of the girls who is filmed says she wants to be a doctor, and her mother later says she will get married after high school, there is no added musical score to make you feel depressed at this girl's lost chance at bettering herself. Instead it just is, as it is for so many throughout the world. It doesn't make for a dramatic movie, but it makes for a true one.
If you are interested in Islam or Muslim women, this is a must see documentary. As someone who has studied the Qur'an, I love movies like this about Muslims' interaction with the book. Another great one is the HBO doc "Koran by Heart."
The Light in Her Eyes will take you into some places that as Westerner you have never seen. Parts of women's lives in Syria. What is more, you might never see it again, because at the moment it is in danger of being completely wiped out by war.
Very well done documentary. Works great for teaching purposes. It would be nice if the nuances within the religious and secular perspectives were developed more fully. The shots with "conservative Muslim cleric" are almost like cartoons, we see faces and hear voices of people about whom we know nothing, nor are we given any information about the historical context that produced them. But after all, one can't do everything in hour and a half.
It is sad to see WE, the women of the Middle East, sit around and memorize Qur'an, and afterward reiterate the Western feminist concerns as our everyday life worries with the male-dominated traditions.
As if Qur'an didn't teach us anything...
Qur'an is a text about life and our everyday existence and worries. Instead of memorizing it, we have to discuss its verses in details and one by one, argue back and forth with each other and with the conservative men over its meaning, and try to learn and see its many faces and its openness and vast conceptual horizon. It is only through thinking, guessing, and researching Qur'an, that we get the idea, otherwise, we have only locked up some verses with a "supposedly" fixed meaning. Memorization doesn't mean anything, God should speak to the mind.