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First International Women’s Film Festival in Afghanistan Features Two “Fruit of Our Labor” Directors

The first International Women’s Film Festival in Afghanistan was held this year from March 6th to 9th. The festival, scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day, was in Herat and featured 36 films from 20 countries on the theme of women and marginalized populations.

Mona HaidariBearing the Weight by Mona Haidari and The Road Above by Aqueela Rezai, both from the Fruit of Our Labor collection, were official selections. Congratulations to these women and their continued success! Read below to find out more about the festival.


Light at the end of the tunnel

By Nupur Basu of The Hindu
March 23, 2013

Stories of resilience dominated the first International Film Festival on Women in Afghanistan.

Around 700 years ago, Queen Goharshad, wife of a Timouri heir, is said to have inspired a Renaissance in Herat, Afghanistan’s western province. Seven centuries later, a group of women filmmakers in Afghanistan have inspired a similar change in their war-ravaged country. The historic city of Herat, close to the Iran border and the setting for Khaled Hosseini’s celebrated novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, played host to the First International Film Festival on Women from March 6-9.

The citadel, better known as Qala Ikhtyaruddin or Arg and said to have been built by Emperor Alexander around 300 BC, made a stunning venue. Over the next three days, women, men and children braved news of bomb blasts, snowfall, rain, icy winds and bright sunshine to watch 36 films from 20 countries on the theme of women and the marginalised, even as dozens of armed Afghan National Police stood guard outside. Like the awesome venue, this festival for women to observe International Women’s Day was a daring first in Afghanistan. “This is an unbelievable event for us and gives us a lot of hope that things can change one day,” said Wida Saghani, a homemaker living with her children, husband and in-laws in Herat.

As a province that has produced the maximum number of women filmmakers in Afghanistan in the last 10 years, it was not surprising that Herat was the venue. Ironically, in recent years, the province has also reported the maximum number of self-immolations by Afghan women, frustrated by forced marriages, lack of access to education and work and domestic violence.

In a long tunnel-like structure in the Citadel, stories about women and people living on the margins unfolded on the screen. Afghan filmmaker Alka Sadat, who was born in Herat, explored a recurrent problem in her Violence Against Women: 10 Years On. “Although no longer in power, the Taliban, it appears, is present in the shadows and their brutal practices and policies towards women, especially in the countryside, are still profoundly visible,” says Sadat, whose debut documentary bagged the Afghan Peace Prize.

The theme of a country ravaged by civil war surfaced in different ways. Laila, directed Batool Moradi, was a poignant documentary on mental illness caused by the stress of war through the stories of women in the mental institution of Red Cresent Hospital in Kabul. Stories of resilience, of women fighting the most challenging odds, came up in story after story. Both Again Life, by award-winning director Hassan Fazeli, and Bearing the Weight, by Mona Haidari, tell the stories of Afghan women who pick up the pieces of their lives devastated by war and soldier on. Well-known director and actor Aqueela Rezai depicts how men’s addiction to alcohol and drugs affects women in The Road Above. Addiction is a recurrent theme in Afghan fiction and non-fiction films. Zabiullah Fahim in Flavour of Powder tells a terrifying tale of a poor addict who tears up his daughter’s belly and leaves his wife with the drug dealer in exchange for heroin. In Icy Sun, Ramin Mohammadi tells another chilling tale of a young woman who aspires to be an actor and ends up being raped and sold to a drug dealer.

The subject of immigration is also an important issue. In an Afghan and Slovakia co-production Light Breeze: Memories of an Immigrant Girl, Sahraa Karimi weaves a screenplay around her own experiences in a new country. Through poems and notes in her diary, the protagonist depicts her innermost feelings as an immigrant. In Where Do I Belong, a film from Iran, Mahvash Sheikholeslami tells the story of Iranian girls married to Afghan men living in Iran and Afghanistan.

“I find women filmmakers from Afghanistan very avant-garde, extremely brave. The women from Iran certainly have better technical expertise and support but, as far as depicting the feelings, emotions and storytelling go, women filmmakers from Afghanistan are on a par. Both tell their stories from the heart,” says Marziyeh Riahi, Editor-in-Chief of Short Film News from Iran.

Oscar-winning Afghan director Sediq Barmak was all praise for the courage shown by Afghan women filmmakers who are pursuing their creative talents, despite threats from fundamentalist forces. “This was a landmark festival for women in Afghanistan and filmmakers in this country and I hope that the government comes forward to support this festival every year in Herat.”

The festival was the brainchild of Roya Sadat, Afghanistan’s leading woman director, who was born and schooled in Herat. She chose Herat as the venue because “in a place where women do not really come out of their homes, they have stepped out to watch our festival. Nothing could give me more pleasure and joy.”

Afghanistan’s film industry, which was virtually decimated during the Taliban years, has been struggling to find its feet in the last 10 years. Director of Afghan Films Ibrahim Arify, who was at the festival, remarked that the number of women in Afghan films has been climbing. “What they need is co-productions, scholarships and training programmes.”

Besides films from Afghanistan and Iran, the festival included films from India, Venezuela, Tajikistan, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Turkey, France, Canada and Thailand.

As the curtains came down, the rich voices of Sufi singers and traditional Persian musical instruments filled the citadel square as hundreds of women, men and children enjoyed this cultural bonanza. The sounds of bomb blasts faded as Heratis once again relished this moment of deep freedom, even if momentarily, in the seat of culture in Afghanistan.


Online Video Fest of the Films in Full – through April 8th!

Special Broadcast of the films in FullWatch ten brilliant films made by Afghans in a storytelling training conducted by Community Supported Film. Between March 13th and April 8th, NAMAC (The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture) and Community Supported Film will bring you the entire Fruit of Our Labor collecion FREE and IN FULL here! These films are poetic tributes to a country rebuilding itself, and serve as excellent teaching tools for educators in media production, cross-cultural communications, and international development.

Make sure you check out this video conversation with Jamal Aram from the filmmaking team in Afghanistan, CS Film Founder Michael Sheridan, and Helen de Michiel former director of NAMAC.  They discuss sustainable approaches to community-based storytelling, the ethics and practicalities of multinational storytelling, and the curricular models and tools that go into produce such stunning, such moving films.


On-line Video Conversation: A Sustainable Approach to Community-Based Storytelling

Watch the Conversation!

Exploring issues of documentary capacity building and public engagement through a media arts lens

Featuring Afghanistan-based filmmaker and former CSFilm Coordinator Jamal Aram, CSFilm founder and director Michael Sheridan, and moderator Helen De Michiel, filmmaker and former National Director of NAMAC.  See full bios

Watch the conversation video, or listen to the mp3 audio.

Read the highlights, or download the full transcript.

Learn about Community Supported FIlm’s work to go beyond traditional notions of participatory media in its training of local storytellers in documentary filmmaking.  This lively discussion covers sustainable approaches to community-based storytelling, the philosophy and practicalities of multinational storytelling, and the curricular models and tools that go into produce such stunning and moving films.

Further Resources:


Media in Afghanistan

Jamal: …Back in 2010, after the fall of the Taliban, the media already started opening up.  It took us almost ten years to get TV channels established here.  People were interested to watch TV, but all the productions came from outside Afghanistan, like the Indian films and the American films, and the notion of the documentary was almost non-existent.

Michael:  Documentary itself is so unknown.  People don’t understand the idea that you actually don’t have a script and actors and actresses.  At many of the screenings people referred to the [characters] as actors and actresses and sometimes challenged the filmmakers quite aggressively about ‘why would they tell these women to do these things’? ‘Isn’t that negative?’ ‘Why would you want to share these kinds of challenges…?’

Jamal: In the past when people talked about violence against women some people said, ‘you talk about violence against women throughout the country, but show me an example – one single example.’ And there was not a single example, because there were no mediums [with which to share] those cases. But right now with the media coming in, especially with filmmaking, documentary filmmaking and radio, the numbers of [acts of] violence against women are coming to the surface very dramatically.  And sometimes it really scares us … But I think that’s a good thing because media and filmmaking is doing their job.  They’re helping these stories to come to the surface and people should know about it and the law enforcement organizations should start really taking it seriously and act on it.

Role of CSFilm and The Fruit of Our Labor Films

Jamal: [CSFilm invited] people from across the county, from different provinces throughout the country, to come together.  Because that is the idea: when they are trained they should go back to their communities and tell the untold stories, which we see some of them doing today.

Helen: [In The Fruit of Our Labor] we see patient observation of daily life, which we never get to see [otherwise] and we notice in these films that there’s these open endings – there’s not a pat little three act structure in each one of the films.  And there’s also an invitation in each one of those films to the audience to talk more after the film, and to find out more…there seems to be minimal ego or filtration of the filmmaker’s point of view.

… [T]he piece where the women is going around in the village and trying to help people to understand why education is so important, that isn’t only storytelling but it’s story showing, showing a process of interrelationship and how people have to work very hard on a very granular level.  And in that ten minutes, or however long that film is, we learn more than probably a million policy documents.

Jamal:  Since we do not have role models, it’s inspiring for [Afghans] to see women, as in L is for Light, D is for Darkness, in a very traditional community setting, trying to educate people and trying to establish a school.  … This is an inspiration both for the audience and the filmmakers to go out and find such stories and try to promote role models for Afghan women and men.  I think that’s an amazing achievement for the film.

Zhara’s film, Hands of Health, talks about contraceptives.  That is something that most people in a village just never heard of it. … These are very crucial issues that Afghans should know about, … and this already started a very good conversation inside Afghanistan which is a very huge achievement.

Ethnic diversity, gender and the training

Jamal: There should be something, some common ground, that different ethnicities could come together and sit around a table and really start discussing their feelings and what they think [about] all of these situations. That should be, you know, the ground for building this nation because – and unfortunately when I’m saying this, I’m a little ashamed of saying it  - but we are so divided.  And this being divided, it creates most of the problems that we are facing both in the economy, social issues and obviously the political issues.

Michael: The dominant subject that kept coming up in the evaluations was what an incredible multicultural experience it was for the trainees.  I mean we had three ethnic groups in the same room… we all know what a horrifying history Afghanistan has with ethnic violence.  But it’s not until you’re sitting in a room and you have a group of Pashtuns sitting there and then you have a group of Hazaras come in and the whole room goes dead silent and then there’s this very formal [process of] feeling each other out.  Well you know that in and of itself was an amazing learning experience for me for about the purpose of the [training].  Well yes, there is this filmmaking agenda and sharing of stories in the west and the opening up of the documentary journalism opportunities within Afghanistan; but just having those ten people having to go out together from different ethnic groups, and having women and men mix and help each other [was so important].

Michael: I mean in many ways a number of these films would have been impossible if there wasn’t that mix.  L is for Light, D is for Darkness was made by a man but it’s about a woman’s story.  It goes into rooms where there are only women gathered. If Zahra Sadat hadn’t been one of the female trainees,… it couldn’t have happened.  The male filmmakers couldn’t have gone into those rooms and filmed those scenes.  Zahra had to go in and film those scenes and share in that process.

Afghans’ reaction to the films

Jamal: There were things in the films, like Death to the Camera, where they were talking about politicians.  Some of the audience said it’s unacceptable because they are attacking the Jihadi leaders and it should be cut from the film. But I think that’s a good thing about these films. They bring people to really start talking, instead of attacking each other.  Rather than fighting it’s engaging people to share their ideas whatever they are. … I think it’s very good to have this conversation going on both inside and outside the country.

How does CSFilm work?

Michael: [CSFilm] is trying to [help] people who are concerned about their own social economic development issues, and who want to use storytelling techniques to effectively share those stories … We were looking for people who were engaged in storytelling: it could be photography, it could be theater, it could be traditional poetry which is very dominant still in Afghanistan, but they had to have a storytelling background.

[We do] what we call back-to-basics, lived-reality documentary filmmaking, so it’s really oriented towards them getting the basic skills to visualize a story, how to do sound and how to tell a story.  … One thing that we really emphasize in the training in terms of getting people very quickly to be able to produce very engaging stories, is to lead with the visual and follow with the talk.

We have to step back from the notion that we [Americans] can do it, that we can fix it, that we can solve Afghanistan’s problems in both our storytelling techniques and in our economic and social development assistance. Go to the local knowledge and the empowerment of that local capacity to tell the stories of what’s happening locally. Because there’s a lot of good work being done by Afghans.  It’s not getting the attention that it really needs, and it needs long-term support.

Long-term impact on trainees

Michael: In terms of our evaluation of impact, from the local perspective, I look at the trainees and what they have gone on to do. Most of them have, or all of them have, either gotten employment or have gone on, in the important ways that I am interested in, to integrating visual storytelling into their work, whether as a press journalist or working for a rights organization, as one has gone on to do.

Jamal: [Regarding the trainees now], most of them or all of them are employed in TV or doing independent filmmaking, or some of them are thinking of doing some kind of training like they received at CSFilm in their provinces and enabling more people to do it.

Brought to you by:     NAMAC  &  Community Supported Film


Presenter Bios

Jamal Aram, Filmmaker and Afghan Program Coordinator, Community Supported Film. Mr. Aram was born in Kabul and went to elementary and high school during the civil war and Taliban regime. During his career he has worked as a research assistant and translator at Afghan Public Policy Research Organization, with the Agha Khan Foundation and other development and microfinance institutions.


Michael Sheridan
Michael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film – has worked in Afghanistan over the last 3 years to train and mentor Afghans in documentary filmmaking. The focus of the stories and the collection of short films produced, The Fruit of Our Labor, is on local economic and social development issues.

Moderated by:

Helen De MichielHelen De Michiel,  director, writer and producer whose current project, Lunch Love Community, is a multiplatform documentary that explores food system reform by Berkeley parents.  From 1996 – 2010 Helen was the National Director and Co-Director for NAMAC, The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.


International Women’s Day Short Films – with CSFilm’s “The Fruit of Our Labor” – Baltimore, MD

Creative Alliance




Creative Alliance and the Baltimore Resettlement Center present….

International Women’s Day: Short Films Series and Panel Presentation

Thursday March 7th, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 3.00.51 PMCreative Alliance at The Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, MD 21224

$12 general admission, $7 members and students.
Information tables and craft market begins at 7pm., 401-276-1651

The Road Above - Wheelbarrow 640 72 small, square

Victory to Change is a documentary by Baltimore-based filmmaker Gregory Walsh. It follows two remarkable female Indian activists as they fight for the most marginalized members of society.  Community Supported Film, an organization that trains storytellers from developing countries as filmmakers, presents three shorts by Afghans.  Art of Solidarity, MICA in Nicaragua, presents The Mothers of Martyrs, a documentary that revisits the Nicaraguan Revolution 30 years later by interviewing mothers who survived. They reflect on the tragedies of war with the goal of passing on their stories to a new generation and advocating for world peace.

Panel discussion will follow, with Elizabeth Alex from Casa Maryland, Aida Pinto-Baquero from Patterson Park Public Charter School’s Mis Raices, Sawsan Al-Sayyab of International Rescue Committee, and members of the Baltimore Women’s Forum – a monthly dialogue group of refugee women, including Mary Kinyoli of Kenya, and Nidaa Haseeb of Iraq.


Watch the Video Conference: Afghan Civil Society in Conversation

The Way Forward: An Afghan Conversation

Watch a recorded video conversation with Afghan Civil Society Activists here.

Afghanistan is like a cancer patient that accidentally survived, with too many doctors giving everything they can rather than listening to what this patient wants, and allowing it to walk on its own. – Hassina Sherjan

We are living in a new era… If you look at the number of youth – the ambitions and the progressive spirit that not only the youth, but a bigger proportion of society has – it’s incredible. - Najib Sharifi

Click here to check out the Twitter Summary for December 06, 2012

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Watch the live conference call with Afghan Civil Society activists (see bios below) to learn more about the current situation in Afghanistan.  With upcoming milestones such as the removal of NATO/US forces and presidential elections to replace Hamid Karzai after 10 years of rule, it is an opportune time to have a discussion about the positive role U.S. civil society can play at this crucial junction in history.

The way the war in Afghanistan ends for the United States may be very different than the way it ends – or doesn’t end – for the people of Afghanistan.  In the US, the discussion is often framed through military strategy, and rarely includes Afghan perspectives.  How will Afghans cope with the upcoming transitions, such as the removal of NATO forces and the Afghan Presidential elections in 2014, and what is an appropriate and responsible role for the US?

Organized by:

Community Supported FilmAmerican Friends Service Committee

Bios of Participants in Kabul, Afghanistan:

Sayed Ikram Afzali is the co-founder and president of Youth in Action Association – a non-profit youth-led organization dedicated to enhancing peace and sustainable development in Afghanistan. He has been a youth advocate and development professional for the past decade focusing on peace building and anti-corruption issues. With an aim to help rebuild Afghanistan, Afzali returned to Afghanistan after 20 years of refugee life in Pakistan. Affected by years of conflict in the region, he has been a strong believer in bringing about peace through youth using non-violent approaches – such as using sport as a vehicle for peacebuilding. Sayed has also worked with the United Nations and other national organizations for more than seven years in the area of democratic governance with a focus on civil society and anti-corruption. He is currently Head of Advocacy and Communication at Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA)

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) was established as an independent civil society organization in 2006. IWA’s mission is to put corruption under the spotlight by increasing transparency, integrity, and accountability in Afghanistan through the provision of policy-oriented research, the development of training tools, and through facilitation of policy dialogue.

Hassina Serjan is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aid Afghanistan for Education and the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Boumi Company – an internationally recognized women-owned home accessory business. Hassina co-authored the book Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, and has published numerous op-eds in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA Today, and more. She received a Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School and has an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Queen’s University in Canada.

Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE) is dedicated to empowering Afghans and rehabilitating the education system in Afghanistan, and provides primary and secondary education for marginalized Afghans. Boumi – Farsi for “indigenous” – manufactures Afghan-made products with raw materials produced in Afghanistan, supplying high-end products to the global marketplace.

Najib SharifiNajib Sharifi 
is the Founder and Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization.  Najib is a medical doctor by training, but over the past ten years he has worked for some of the leading news organizations around the world including the New York Times, BBC, CNN, National Public Radio and the Washington Post.  He has researched for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit and Human Rights Watch.  In addition, he served as senior political officer for the Office of the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan.  In 2009, Najib won a Humphrey/Fulbright scholarship and studied public policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Najib’s analysis and opinion pieces have appeared on various Western media outlets including South Asia Global Affairs and the foreign policy magazine.  He is a frequent commentator of issues of domestic Afghan politics and foreign policy of the Western countries towards Afghanistan on Afghan and international media.

Afghanistan New Generation Organization is a non-profit youth empowerment organization with aims to empower the youth to become competent community advocates by providing training in such areas as public speaking, media literacy, and use of information technology among others.

Michael SheridanMichael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film, is a filmmaker, educator and activist. For nearly 20 years Michael has engaged the public in stories from Asia, Africa and the Americas about people in poor and developing communities challenging the status quo and struggling to improve their lives. Michael co-founded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit and has sought to break new ground in the effective use of media to educate and change policy. He has taught documentary filmmaking for 15 years at the community and university level, extensively in the United States and Afghanistan, and as a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia.

Community Supported Film strengthens the documentary filmmaking capacity in crisis and post-crisis communities where the dissemination of objective and accurate information is essential. Local women and men are trained to produce stories on their community’s socioeconomic issues, and the resulting films are screened in audience engagement campaigns. Michael founded Community Supported Film in 2010 with a pilot program in Afghanistan that resulted in the production of 10 Afghan-made films, The Fruit or Our Labor. Michael also runs his filmmaking company SheridanWorks.

Moderated by:

Peter Lems

Peter Lems is the Program Director of education and advocacy for Iraq and Afghanistan at the American Friends Service Committee. He is also the co-coordinator of the Wage Peace campaign, a program initiative that seeks to wage peace with the same determination and energy that nations wage war.

The American Friends Service Committee carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world. Founded by Quakers in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors with an opportunity to aid civilian war victims, AFSC’s work attracts the support and partnership of people of many races, religions, and cultures.

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