Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s debut documentary A Woman Captured tackles a big but underreported problem: modern-day slavery.
“I had an assignment from school, to shoot a five-minute short – a day in a person’s life,” Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, director of feature-length contender A Woman Captured, says during a break while attending this year’s IDFAcademy. “And I immediately remembered Marish’s face.”
Marish – real name Edith, we learn later in the film – was the ‘servant’ of a family Tuza-Ritter had come into contact with some time before. “I knew Marish was actually 50, but she looked like 70. I thought maybe I can shoot with her for a few days,” the director recalls. “I knew she was a ‘servant’ for Eta and her family, but I was not aware what this really means. During these few days of shooting, Marish told me she is not being paid. As my relationship with her deepened, I asked for more and more days to shoot. Gradually I realised what was actually happening.” What was actually happening is modern-day slavery – a problem that is far more widespread than we may think, the director adds. “It is happening all around us – Eta’s place is not far from the city,” Tuza-Ritter adds.
“After two weeks, I was sure it was going to be more than a five-minute short,” the director says. “I had to start paying the head of the family, Eta, to keep getting access. By this time I also didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to leave Marish alone. So there was a double draw to go back — even though it was a nightmare to shoot in that house. I never felt safe.”
Now playing a double role – filmmaker and friend – Tuza-Ritter became her protagonist’s accomplice, although she is at pains to stress that all the decisions taken were Marish/Edith’s own. “Then Marish told me she was planning to get away – but of course she didn’t want me to tell Eta this. By now it was obvious to me Marish was not a free person. I felt I had to stand by Marish, as a human being.”
Conflict between her two roles was minimal, however, the director recalls. “There were some points when Marish asked me not to shoot now, but to be with her, and then I stopped filming. It was more important in those moments just to be there for her.”
The filmmaker’s relationship to Eta and her family was obviously much more difficult, but she does plan to show the film to them. “We talked about this, and I told them I will show it to them once”, she says. “We will see what happens … I did include Eta’s side of the story in the film. I had this visual concept that I would not show Eta’s face, but that I would always show Marish’s face. I wanted her to be the only one on the screen. This turned out to be helpful; if I wasn’t shooting Eta I could be there when she wasn’t. I thought, this might give me more access. I also wanted to make the film more universal; not just about this particular family, but about modern-day slavery in general.”
Tuza-Ritter is looking forward to the film’s premiere on Sunday – not least because her protagonist will be in attendance. “Marish will be at the premiere,” she says. “It will be a really magical moment for her!”