Can I Hug You? – A film by GSDF alumni Elahe Esmaili

It’s the kind of film you don’t see often but we’ll be screening it at our annual Summit in London very soon. Our Global Short Docs filmmaker, Elahe Esmaili (2023), has directed a short doc about her husband, Hossein Behboudi Rad’s experience with childhood abuse. Can I Hug You? will be followed by a discussion about a sexual assault trauma survivors’ journey towards recovery, shedding light on the strategies that empower survivors and their loved ones to navigate the complexities of their experiences, and rebuild their lives. We speak to Hossein and Elahe ahead of the session:

United Kingdom, Iran | 2023 | Elahe Esmaili | 35 mins

In the city of Qom, the most restricted city in Iran, there are many restrictions on human rights, such as mandatory hijab to assure sexual safety. Hossein (M, 30) grew up in this environment and experienced multiple sexual assaults by men, despite these measures. Due to stereotypes around masculinity, he never talked about it. With the support of his wife, Elahe, he now confronts the trauma.

The screening of this personal, sensitive and powerful short documentary will be followed by a discussion highlighting sexual assault trauma survivors’ journey towards recovery, shedding light on the strategies that empower survivors and their loved ones to navigate the complexities of their experiences, and rebuild their lives.

Can I Hug You? was developed as part of GSDF.

Watch the Trailer | Visit the website

1. What are you most looking forward to at the Summit?
We are really looking forward to the collaborative energy at the Summit, where passionate filmmakers, social activists, and thought leaders come together to not only celebrate art but also the role of art, cinema and especially documentary in driving social change.

CAN I HUG YOU? is a personal short documentary that is being made with the aim to make a real impact. We’re excited to engage in dialogues that extend beyond the screen, give visibility to the project to all guests of the summit and accordingly contribute to the wider impact of the project.


2. Why is the event a good platform/the right fit for the doc, other than being a GSDF film?

The Summit represents a unique intersection of film industry, journalism and advocacy.

As a doc that is aimed to make an impact, that’s one of the most fulfilling things to us. I believe an environment like this provides synergies that can lead to giving us an insight that is hard to gain anywhere else.


3. Tell us about the film’s journey so far.
We premiered our documentary at Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this summer and were deeply moved by the overwhelmingly positive response from audiences—a truly heartwarming experience for our entire team.

More recently, we’ve been honoured to receive support from the International Documentary Association by being selected for their Awards Campaign Initiative.

This support, as well as that of OWM, is crucial as we enter our awards campaign. Given that the issue we explore in our film is a global concern, frequently marginalised due to social stigmas, possible recognition by awards such as the Oscars could significantly expand our reach and impact.


4. What are you keen to highlight during your session (without giving away too many details!)
In our film, we explore several different topics related to child sexual violence, including male victims, toxic masculinity and local human rights issues. Based on our previous Q&As, we expect to dive more into these topics during the session, as well as our journey in making the film.

However, what we’re most excited about is hearing the feedback of the guests, including from nonprofits. We’re eager to know more about their experiences, how much they think the other victims had similar experiences as Hossein’s and how much they think our film can support survivors.

There will be many people from the film and documentary industry for this screening. We’re looking forward to hearing from them.


5. What do you hope will be the audience’s biggest takeaway?
I decided to make my story into a film for anyone who needs to see it to not feel alone, as I felt. And for anyone who wants to talk about these issues but are not yet ready to share their own experiences and seek a sample of that. And at the same time I wanted to challenge toxic masculinity and show how it can damage mental health. Finally, I wanted to criticise all human rights violations that are committed in the name of assuring sexual safety.

But I’m hesitant to prescribe a singular takeaway for viewers. Documentaries are about sharing real events that resonate differently with each viewer. It’s exciting  to observe how people from diverse backgrounds and geographies not only grasp the intended message of the doc but also arrive at their own unique interpretations.


6. Why is participating in an event like this important as a filmmaker?
All films have some roots in a concern that the filmmaker wants to raise; or an impact that they want to make.

Where better to do this than a Summit that gathers people from different perspectives from journalists and NGOs to filmmakers and artists?


Register for the Summit to watch the film and join the discussion