Film Reviews

Review: ‘Dugma: The Button’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Dugma: the Button
(Norway, 59 min.)
Dir. Paul S. Refsdal
Programme: The Pursuit of Happiness (International Premiere)

In interviews, Norwegian journalist and filmmaker Paul Refsdal has a somewhat breezy attitude toward being kidnapped by the Taliban and prodded into converting to Islam. For one thing, he portrays his hostage-takers as amusingly naïve amateurs. Scary as they are, they allow him to make ransom negotiating calls in languages they don’t understand, apparently unaware he could reveal his location.

In his film, Dugma: the Button, awarded Best Mid-Length Documentary at Hot Docs 2016, Refsdal likewise approaches the subject of young men on the verge of their first suicide mission with a light touch, given the horror ahead. We meet chubby Abu Qaswara, who sits in a explosive-laden truck, happily pointing out the release button, the dugma, that will “send them all to hell.” Meanwhile, Abu Ljaman can’t wait to explode into paradise and hook up with 72 girls. There’s something of a frat house atmosphere as the guys eat, chat, and discuss their imminent deaths, which will happen if Allah “gives permission.”

We also see anger toward western bombing strikes on innocent Syrians. For the guys, their missions are military actions against enemies, not acts of terror against civilians. In key moments, Refsdal does bring us close to doubt the validity of undertaking suicide missions. Slaphappy Abu Qaswara gets queasy when he looks at a video of his daughter. Of the profiled group, Abu Basir al-Britani, born to a British mother and an American father, who worked in the film industry is closest to losing the will to kill, especially after his wife gets pregnant.

An observational doc free of overt editorializing, Dugma shows that planning suicide and mass murder doesn’t prevent you from being a regular burger and Pepsi loving dude – especially if you believe with all your heart that Allah guides your every step.

Dugman; The Button screens:
-Sunday, May 8 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 7:00 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

View all articles by Maurie Alioff »