Facing the Dragon


TYPE
: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production

LOGLINE

As the Americans pull out of Afghanistan, will the international efforts of the past decade pay-off for women?  This is the side of the Afghan story you've never heard from women you've never met.

A young Afghan journalist remains committed to reporting on real crisis in her country, even as her family pushes her toward an arranged marriage. Will she be free to determine her own future?

An ambitious doctor-turned-politician juggles five kids at home while she struggles to be heard in Parliament by warlords and extremists hell-bent on sending her home. Can she keep going in the face of overwhelming misogyny?

Will Afghan women succeed?

 

SYNOPSIS

When the Taliban controlled Kabul, women and girls became prisoners in their own homes without any voice. In 2001, with the US invasion and Taliban surrender, international aid poured into the country. “Saving and fostering Afghan women” was part of US foreign policy. As an Afghan-American born in Kabul and growing up in the States, I watched as Afghan women began to step back into society.

Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi, seized this opportunity to go to school and become a physician. Now, she’s an MP – one of 68 women recently elected to the Parliament. I follow her to a rally where she speaks to women about the necessity of their vote in the 2014 presidential elections. Ibrahimi says, “We as women must be a part of this process. Take the risk and determine who our next president will be.”

Next, I travel with Nilofar to her hometown in Kism, a remote area where most women are illiterate. I learn her family’s story. “My father was killed by the Communists when I was two. My mother sent me to Kabul when I was 7, to live with an uncle and go to school. I never lived with her again. Growing up, I was completely on my own.” I want to know how this has shaped her as an adult.

Like working mothers everywhere, Nilofar struggles to balance children, a husband, and the responsibilities of her career. She sits in her living room trying to watch the news as her five children run circles around her. “Of course, I love my children … but I have been absent from so many parts of their lives,” she tells me.

In Parliament, some women MPs have brought a controversial decree up for debate, hoping to ratify it as a law. The decree criminalizes violence against women, including rape and polygamy – a given human right to me, but not here. Hard-line male MPs fight to dismantle the decree or worse, revise it to it reflect their extremist views. Can Nilofar negotiate effectively with men who don’t respect her place in the government? Nilofar sacrificed her medical practice to become a politician and an advocate for women’s rights. As the Americans pull out of the country, she could lose her position or she could be killed for speaking her mind.

Investigative reporter, Saleha Soadat is trying to deliver a fourth take to her cameraman. A flock of young boys and men surround her, teasing her and making it nearly impossible to do her job. Quietly intense, she ignores them. “The moment I leave my house, I am fighting to accomplish what I want I to do. Even my family doesn’t encourage me. That’s my reality.” I wonder what motivates her in spite these obstacles. She tells me, “My biggest fear is that the Taliban will return after the Americans leave and as a journalist, I will be their first target. But I love what I do. It makes me feel free and I won’t quit my job.”

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

In the 1960s, my mother was one of a handful of forward-thinking women who lived in Kabul.  She didn’t wear the veil, graduated from Kabul Medical School, and had a “modern” marriage in which she chose her own husband.  Later, she immigrated to the States, where I was raised.  From the 60s onward, I watched from America, as the doomed reign of King Daood Khan turn into the Communist era, then the brutal Afghan civil war, and, finally, the horrors of the Taliban regime.  I saw decades of foreign occupation and war with women at the mercy of political, ideological and religious debate.  They continually lost and gained their rights based on who was in power.  In the Western media, I saw the predominant image of an Afghan woman as the “suffering, bereaved victim,” helpless to change her situation, or the “noble woman” rising up to save her country.  I knew the truth lay somewhere in between.  Knowing my mother’s journey, I knew that there was a more complicated and intriguing story about Afghan women.  This is the story I want to tell and now is the time – while Afghanistan has another chance at self-rule.

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Women make up 28% of the Afghan Parliament – for the first time in history, they have the opportunity to participate in government and help decide the country’s future.  Brave women are working as reporters, teachers, activists and businesswomen.  As the Americans leave and international aid runs out, what will happen to them?  Violence is on the rise.  There is a growing sense of insecurity as hard-line religious conservatives and the Taliban push an agenda that threatens women’s recent, still-fragile progress.

In this pivotal year, I want to tell the story of Afghan women, from my unique perspective as an Afghan-American woman with a foot in both worlds.

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KEY CREW

Sedika Mojadidi - Director

Sedika was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and grew up in the United States.  She holds a MFA in Video from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MA in Film Theory from the University of Florida.  An independent filmmaker, producer, and writer, Sedika directed and produced a feature documentary, MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN, in 2006. The film follows her father’s struggle to make a difference in the maternal mortality epidemic gripping Afghanistan and aired to strong reviews on the Independent Lens, Global Voices and Women and Girl’s Lead Documentary Series.


She has worked as a supervising producer on the critically acclaimed ABC News documentary series, Boston Med and as a producer and camerawoman on many television projects for PBS, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Arts and Entertainment Channel, and the Food Network.

Elizabeth Tracy - Producer

Liz is an Emmy nominated TV producer and documentary-maker with experience working on a wide variety of investigative, educational, ethnographic and entertainment programming in the U.S. and abroad.

After many years working in the field as a documentary cameraperson and producer, she now works as a freelance executive producer developing new programming and overseeing all aspects of production for outlets including A&E, HGTV, National Geographic Television and PBS. Her work has also aired on HBO, CBS, Discovery, Food Network, Swedish Public Television, and CNN.

Jenny Raskin - Producer

Jenny Raskin is a documentary director and producer.  Her first feature documentary, ON HOSTILE GROUND, was released theatrically and broadcast on the Sundance Channel.  She produced MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN, which was broadcast on PBS/Independent Lens.  She co-produced THE CRASH REEL (director, Lucy Walker – Sundance 2013) and THE GENIUS OF MARIAN (director, Banker White – Tribeca 2013).   She is an Executive Producer of OUR NIXON (Director, Penny Lane – SXSW 2013) and WEB JUNKIE (Directors, Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam, Sundance 2014).  She has worked as a writer or story consultant on a number of films including HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Academy Award nominee 2011), HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (Sundance 2011) and MISS REPRESENTATION (Sundance 2010).  Jenny works as the Head of Development at Impact Partners, a social interest film fund.

 

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ACCOLADES

-
IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2017
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Additional fundings: $350K from ITVS and 12K from Sundance Institute.

 

UPDATE - May 28, 2014

Filming in Kishm, Badakhshan with Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi in full burqa on her way to a family picnic.

The full burqa is common in rural communities, but not in urban centers like Kabul. Nilofar chooses to wear it on this visit out of respect for local tradition and to avoid creating a stir in the small town where she is a well-known public figure.

Just a week before we arrived, 2 mudslides devastated a village in this remote north-eastern province killing more than 2,500 people. Nilofar is visiting as a friend, relative and elected Member of Parliament representing Badakhshan.

 

UPDATE - April 04, 2014

Our project has received $55,000 in funding from Public Television through the ITVS Diversity Development Fund. This enables us to continue working during Afghanistan's critical presidential election on April 5th, which is likely to carry over into a run off.  There has been a marked uptick in violence, but Afghan citizens, including women, are expected to turn out in large numbers to cast their votes.

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