Documentary Film Prize Recipient, 2019

On Her Shoulders, directed by Alexandria Bombach, is the 2019 recipient of the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize.

Bombach’s documentary follows Nadia Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who survived genocide and sexual slavery committed by ISIS. Repeating her story to politicians and media, including at the United Nations, Murad was thrust onto the world stage as the voice of her people. Away from the spotlight and the podium, she must navigate bureaucracy, fame, and people’s good intentions. On Her Shoulders premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, winning Best Directing in the US Documentary Competition, and later that year Murad was named as one of the two winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Ridenhour Prize committee praised On Her Shoulders as “a layered and beautifully crafted film. It not only recounts the narrative of Nadia Murad’s victimization at the hands of ISIS, but also speaks to a critical issue affecting those whose activism leads them to tell their story. Those who care about human rights rightly focus on policies to create safe havens. On Her Shoulders also recounts the maddening, continuing sacrifices Murad’s activism call her to make.”

In response, Bombach said, “It is such a meaningful honor to receive the Ridenhour Prize for On Her Shoulders. The award speaks to the core of what the film hopes to leave the audience with – an exposure of the truth. Following Nadia Murad as she repeatedly shared her horrific story with politicians, journalists, and world leaders, I began to have an intimate understanding of the toll this work takes on her, and the importance of revealing the often absurd realities of what it takes to get the world to listen to a voiceless minority.”

Bombach is an award-winning cinematographer, editor and director from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her first feature-length documentary, Frame by Frame, follows the lives of four Afghan photojournalists who are facing the realities of building Afghanistan’s first free press. The film had its world premiere at SXSW 2015, won more than 25 film festival awards, and screened in front of the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. In 2016, Bombach directed the Pulitzer Center-supported New York Times Op-Doc, Afghanistan By Choice, an intertwining portrait of five Afghans who weigh the costs of leaving or staying as the country’s security deteriorates. In addition to her feature documentary work, her production company Red Reel has been producing award-winning, character-driven stories since 2009. Her 2013 film Common Ground unearths the emotion behind a proposed wilderness-area addition for a community in Montana – as heritage and tradition are seemingly defended on both sides. Her Emmy Award-winning 2012 series Moveshake captured the internal conflicts of people dedicating their lives to a cause.