International Women’s Day in Afghanistan is being celebrated this year with what organizers are billing as the first women’s film festival in the country’s history.
“The focus for this festival is on women,” said Roya Sadat, filmmaker and president of Roya Film House, one of the sponsors and organizers of the Herat International Women’s Film Festival being held March 7-9.
“They are women directors, with films about women, that talk about women’s issues. There will be some men in the films, but the women will be the subject,” Sadat said in a telephone interview from Herat.
The festival received more than 100 film submissions from around the world, 30 of which will be shown.
The venue of the festival, the western city of Herat, was not only chosen because of the city’s ancient culture and traditions, but because it also has a high concentration of violence against women.
According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, there were 4,010 recorded cases of violence against women in Afghanistan between March 21 and October 21 of last year. More than half of those reported incidents were from only two provinces — Kabul and Herat. Both are major urban centers.
“A lot of the programs in the past have been focused in Kabul. Herat is a city with the same issues,” said Sadat.
“During the Taliban, we lost the cinema. We used to just have people come to small rooms to watch films. We had nothing — maybe a projector. Now, we will have this festival. It’s another way for the people to come out and speak about their issues.”
Problems that plague women in Afghanistan range from domestic violence and battery, to forced child marriages and sexual violence. Most of the films will be dealing with such issues.
One film that will be screened, which is described on the event’s official brochure, is entitled “Bearing the Weight,” by Afghan director Mona Haidari. The film follows the life of 21-year-old Shafiqa. Shafiqa lost her husband, her newborn daughter and her leg in a rocket attack. The film depicts how disabled women are often hidden by their families and communities, and how she had to overcome what she calls “the paralysis of her soul.”
Another film, “A Small Dream,” tells the story of a young Afghan woman named Humaira, and her efforts to protect education for girls, despite opposition from her community and the men in her family.
Many of the films also deal with insecurity in Afghanistan, which is not only depicted in on-screen stories, but is an issue for the organizers of the event as well.
“Our big problem is the security. We couldn’t even have an announcement with the location of the festival,” said Sadat. “We tried to just send everything by private invitation. We also can’t say how many people are planning to attend.”
Sadat fears that a large gathering, especially one that plans to discuss the rights of women, may become a target for insurgents, but she hasn’t let it deter the spirit of the event.
Although no awards will be given this year, the filmmakers still have incentives.
“Some directors from Kabul have given gifts to the participants, and we will also have training and workshops for both women and men filmmakers,” Sadat said.
Recently, Afghanistan made film news headlines when “Buzkashi Boys,” the story of two young Afghan boys who dreamed of playing Buzkashi, a traditional Afghan polo game, was nominated for an Academy Award under the best live action short category.
Organizers say the festival, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day March 8, is now set to be an annual event, with hopes of growing larger every year.