Houda (center) praying with her students at Al-Zahra Mosque, Damascus, from The Light in Her Eyes. 
Houda (center) praying with her students at Al-Zahra Mosque, Damascus, from The Light in Her Eyes

The Light in Her Eyes

A new documentary produced and directed by Laura Nix ’89 with Julia Meltzer

By Joseph Gallivan | March 1, 2013

This compelling documentary by Laura Nix ’89 tells the story of a conservative Muslim preacher and the girls’ school she founded in Damascus, shot just before Syria’s brutal civil war erupted in the summer of 2011.

The film follows Houda al-Habash, an academic, mother, and wife, who runs a summer school for young girls at a mosque in Damascus. Bustling about in her black hajib and polyester coat, Houda brings to mind a novelty shop, wind-up nun, all but spitting sparks as she exhorts her charges to memorize the Koran by rote. But we see her tenderness as well as her drive. Ultimately she insists that the girls stick up for their rights in a secular, sexist society.

The documentary premiered in Amsterdam at the International Documentary Film Festival in 2011 and is now available for streaming on PBS’s POV website.

As a history major at Reed, Laura wrote her thesis (under adviser Julia Liss [history 1987–89]) on domestic architecture and the rise of the single family home. She credits the discipline and rigor of her Reed education for the critical thinking that informs her work. 

“As a documentary maker you’re not a journalist,” she explains. “You’re expected to have an opinion. You’re giving your experience of what you saw and heard. My training at Reed helped me look at a variety of sources, dig a little deeper and frame those sources.” 

Laura is currently producing The Yes Men Are Revolting, her follow-up to the festival hit The Yes Men Fix the World, both of which star media hacker/performance artist Igor Vamos ’90.