Bafta win for The Shamima Begum Story, documentary about British teenager who joined ISIS

Lebanese composer Firas Abou Fakher speaks to The National about 'shock' win for film that took eight years to complete

The Shamima Begum Story tells the story of the London-born woman who travelled to Syria to join ISIS when she was 15. Photo: BBC
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A member of the team behind the documentary about Shamima Begum, the London-born woman who travelled to Syria to join ISIS when she was 15, says it was an “absolute shock” to win at the 2024 Bafta TV awards.

The Shamima Begum Story, which tells a story that has been a topic of controversy and debate in the UK, triumphed in the current affairs category at the 2024 British Academy of Film and Television Arts TV awards.

The daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Begum travelled to Syria in 2015 with two school friends. The teenagers became known as the Bethnal Green Girls because they were all students of the East London academy. Begum married an ISIS fighter shortly after arriving to Syria and had three children, all of whom died.

According to media reports, Begum was also tasked with recruiting other young women to join the terrorist group. Her UK citizenship was revoked in 2019, shortly after she was found living in the al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria. Facing death threats from others, Begum was transferred to al-Roj, where she reportedly lives today. Her attempts to travel back to the UK have been unsuccessful.

The Shamima Begum Story features Begum’s account of what happened. Directed by investigative journalist Joshua Baker, the documentary took eight years to make.

Baker said during his acceptance speech: “When you take on one of the most contentious stories in Britain, life rewards you with one major thing, and that is this incredible group of people who I’ve got to work with, who were there for the majority of it and really gave everything they have to make it the film that it is.”

Baker pointed at the people standing on stage with him, including Simon McMahon, Sarah Waldron, Sasha Achilli, Jo Carr, Sara Obeidat and Firas Abou Fakher, each of whom was presented with a statuette.

Abou Fakher is a Lebanese composer and film producer who was one of the founders of the band Mashrou’ Leila and wrote the music for the project.

Abou Fakher told The National: “I’m still a bit stunned. I received my visa on Thursday, got to London Saturday evening, then met the entire team that I worked with for months for the first time at the Baftas. To walk away with an award is incredible. It came as an absolute shock to me and to the entire team.”

The project was a challenging one from a musical perspective because Abou Fakher did not want his work to tell the viewer how to feel about a complex issue.

“When I first saw the film, it was daunting," Abou Fakher added. “Josh and the team had done a good job of making sure that the viewer was the one making decisions and dictating their position. I thought any music would only add my own feelings about Shamima into the mix. We talked about that a lot and my challenge in the studio was to extend that ambiguity.”

Abou Fakher also mentioned Begum in his thoughts on social media, saying that her “story is more important now than ever”. He added: “As we celebrate this win, she still sits in a camp in Syria, unable to go home to the UK.”

Updated: May 13, 2024, 4:09 PM