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Five documentary films that take us into Afghan women’s lives

A selection of films from the Women Make Movies film collective sheds light on the history of the region and brings to light the voices and lived experiences of Afghan women

A poster for the 2019 film I Am The Revolution by Benedetta Argentieri 
A poster for the 2019 film I Am The Revolution by Benedetta Argentieri  (WMM.com)

Amidst a takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and fears about the freedoms and rights of women in the country, the New York-based film collective Women Make Movies is making its ‘Voices Of Afghan Women’ collection available for free viewing till 31 August (they will be available to watch even after that through requests to host virtual screenings). Several of the nine films are documentaries that take a deep, close look at the lives of Afghan women over the past 20 years—their struggles and incredible triumphs. “As we watch with heavy hearts as the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, we are making a selection of films available for free that shed light on the history of this region and, most importantly, that highlight the voices and lived experiences of Afghan women,” the WMM website announces. 

Here are five documentary films from the collection that will deepen our understanding of the lives of women in and from Afghanistan, featuring their own voices telling their varied, layered stories:

Sonita (2019)

A poster for Sonita
A poster for Sonita

This two-time Sundance Film Festival award winner by Iranian director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami tells the story of Sonita Alizadeh, an 18-year-old refugee in Iran, who escaped Afghanistan to avoid marriage and dreams of becoming a famous rapper. Sonita, who is shown to be living in a shelter for women at the time this film was made, idolises Eminem and Rihanna, as well as Iranian rapper Yas. Today, she lives in the United States and is a passionate advocate for ending child marriage. 

I Am The Revolution (2019)

A portrait of three determined women in the Middle East who are leading the fight for gender equality and freedom by American filmmaker Benedetta Argentieri, this 2019 film follows the lives of Afghan politician Selay Ghaffar, who was one of the most wanted people by the Taliban and yet she travelled through Afghanistan to educate other women about their rights; Rojda Felat, a commander of the Syrian Democratic Army, leading 60,000 troops to defeat ISIS, including freeing their hold on Raqqa and rescuing its people; and Yanar Mohammed, named by the BBC as one of 100 most influential women in the world in 2018, who pushes for parliamentary reform in Iraq while running shelters for abused women.

Playing With Fire: Women Actors of Afghanistan (2014)

A poster for Playing with Fire
A poster for Playing with Fire (wmm.com)

This 2014 film by Greek director Anneta Papathanassiou looks at the lives of female actors in Afghan theatre—which was banned under the Taliban prior to 2001 and could be banned again—during the interim years, when they defied deeply patriarchal societies and families to work in theatre. The film focuses on six courageous Afghan women who share their passions for acting, dreams, and difficult realities. They include Sajida, a student targeted by extremists; Monirah, besieged co-founder of an innovative women’s theater troupe; Tahera, forced into exile because of award-winning work at a theater festival; Roya, whose TV career brings her constant harassment; and Leena and Breshna, unprotected by their stage and motion picture fame.

Unveiled Views: Muslim Women Artists Speak Out (2009)

A scene from the film
A scene from the film (Wmm.com)

In this revealing documentary by Spanish filmmaker Alba Sotorra, five extraordinary women from orthodox Islamic societies talk about their occupations, aspirations, and the rights and status of women in their countries, among them young Afghani writer Moshagan Saadat who creates brave, profoundly moving and memorable poems. The other women whose voices come alive in this film are Bosnian Alma Suljevic, who risks her life clearing the landmines near Sarajevo and sells minefield earth in European art galleries so that she can continue her work; Eren Keskin, a longtime human rights activist and lawyer with music conservatory training, fights to change Turkey’s legal practices that perpetuate violence against women; veteran Iranian filmmaker Rakshan Bani-Ehmad, who frequently pushes Iran’s censorship rules to the limit, and renowned Pakistani dancer Nahid Siddiqui, once forced to live outside her homeland when her work was banned. 

Search for Freedom (2003)

In this slightly older film, Munizae Jahangir traces the dramatic social and political history of Afghanistan from the 1920s to the early noughties through the stories of four remarkable women: Princess Shafiqa Saroj, sister of the beloved progressive King Amanullah (1919-1929); Mairman Parveen, the first woman to sing on Afghan radio; Moshina, a war widow and survivor of a Taliban massacre; and Sohaila, an exiled medical student who ran underground schools for RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women) during the Taliban regime. Through their personal stories, a surprising portrait of Afghanistan’s history emerges. Stunning archival footage from the early 20th century captures a time of remarkable progress and freedom for women that belies most Western perceptions. Other historical footage and Jahnagir’s incisive commentary reveal women’s realities and resilience under near constant occupation, first with the Soviet invasion, then under the mujahadeen and more recently under the repressive Taliban. 

To sign up for the free screenings, visit www.wmm.com.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    30.08.2021 | 09:00 AM IST

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