WHFF Winners Announced – What Tomorrow Brings

Cape Cod resident Beth Murphy won the Best of the Fest Audience Award for the third time for her documentary “What Tomorrow Brings,” about the first girls’ primary school in Afghanistan. The film also helped initiate the creation of the first college for women in Afghanistan. Her documentaries “Beyond Belief” and “The List” won the award in 2007 and 2012, respectively. For “What Tomorrow Brings,” Ms. Murphy embedded herself in the school and community starting in 2008, resulting in a most intimate look at what it means to be a girl growing up in Afghanistan today. From the school’s beginnings in 2009 to its first graduation in 2015, the film traces the interconnected stories of students, teachers, village elders, parents, and school founder Razia Jan.… LEARN MORE

HotDocs Unveils Full Lineup

Hot Docs Festival Unveils Full Lineup
Burning topics, boundary-pushing formats, and films by and about women take center stage at the 2016 edition of Hot Docs, North America’s premier doc-cinema festival and confab, which raised the curtain on its full 232-pic slate this morning in Toronto. … LEARN MORE

One U.S. woman’s vision is changing the lives of girls in rural Afghanistan – New York Times

One U.S. woman’s vision is changing the lives of girls in rural Afghanistan – New York Times

Read The Article Here/

‘Twas the Night Before Graduation

This article first appeared in the HuffingtonPost

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – This is a poem to celebrate the seven students who make up the first graduating class of the Zabuli Education Center — the first school for girls in a small village on the outskirts of Kabul Province. Here, they’ve defied all the odds to become one of the most successful schools in the country. Today is their graduation day.

‘Twas The Night Before Graduation

‘Twas the night before graduation
when all through the school
The excitement was building
Dads, time to throw your pakhol!

Caps and gowns were all hung
By the staircase with care
In hopes that graduations here
Would no longer be rare.

The seniors were working
All late into the night
Helping mothers and siblings
Without guidance of light.

And Razia in her slippers,
and I in her socks
Were making rice pudding
No recipe, no clocks.

When out in the village
There arose such a clatter
I sprang from the stove
To see what was the matter.

Away to the gate
I flew in high gear
Then remembered to stay hidden
Lest the Taliban be near

The moon cast a soft glow
On a blue minaret
As the state of our world
Filled me with regret.

When what to my wondering
eyes should appear
But a tiny young girl
with wide eyes and no fear.

With a little toy kitten
hung by a string
I knew in a moment
she’d make my heart sing

More rapid than eagles
her dreams out they came
She shared them, then shouted them
and gave them all names!

Now, Rafia! Now, Shakira!
Now, Mursal and Negina!
On Aziza, Yalda and Breshna!
You’re my Afghan Athenas!

“I’m Uzra!,” she sang
“And I’ve just turned five!
I’m coming to Kindergarten –
look I’ve arrived!”

“One day, I will graduate
just like you.
How can I do it?
What do I do?”

As adventurous travelers
Who know from the start
When they meet with a fork
To decide from the heart

So into the office
Uzra, she flew
Registering for Kindergarten
with a “Please” and “Thank you”

And then, in a twinkling
I heard from her lips
A gnawing self-doubt
Her mood was eclipsed

As I reached out my hand
And began to clutch hers
I could feel her body shaking
All tension and nerves

She was dressed all in rags
From her head to her foot
And her face was all tarnished
With ashes and soot.

A bundle of sticks
She carried on her head
“I’m an orphan,” she told me
“Because my father is dead.”

Her eyes – they had tears
Her bottom lip was aquiver
“My shoes do not fit,”
She said with a shiver.

She spoke for a while
And then held her head high
“My shoes are not learning,
it’s me who will try.”

Her face was alight
Cheeks rosy and pink
“I can really be a senior
one day? Do you think?”

She sprang to her feet
Gave string kitten a tug
Then turned on her heels
Into my arms for a hug

Then away she skipped
down the dusty dirt trail
Ready to write
Her own life’s tale

And I heard her exclaim
as she followed her dream
“I can do what they’ve done
This Class of 2015!”

GroundTruth Films Producer Beth Murphy and Razia’s Ray Of Hope President and Founder Razia Jan discuss Razia’s schools for women in Afghanistan.

GroundTruth Films Producer Beth Murphy and Razia’s Ray Of Hope President and Founder Razia Jan discuss Razia’s schools for women in Afghanistan.

Ominous signs en route to a unique school for girls in Afghanistan

Read the full article on GlobalPost

KABUL, Afghanistan — En route to Kabul earlier this month, I met an elderly woman who was traveling from Omaha to visit her extended family in Afghanistan. When I told her I was on my way to work on a project focused on girls’ education, she shook her head at me and drew a finger across her throat.


KABUL, Afghanistan –

Many years ago in Bangladesh I was in a hot pepper eating frenzy. Then I stuck my finger in my eye. Blinded and flailing, I vowed never to do that again. It only took 17 years to break my promise (which is surprising since I normally break my promises much more quickly). Less surprising since I’ve been eating almost exclusively with my hands, and when I’m home tomorrow the first thing to go is the utensil drawer. I need that drawer for all the Afghan candy I’m bringing back anyway.

It’s good to be back – and interesting to see how Kabul has changed since October 2013. Expats once considered Kabul “Kabubble,” and it’s safe to say that bubble has burst. It’s no joke that the Taliban and other groups are following through on their promises to target westerners. A German woman was kidnapped two days ago in broad daylight – snatched right out of her car. The abduction happened 15 minutes after a security warning went out from INSO (International NGO Safety Organization) about increased risk of abduction in that exact neighborhood. (Insert wtf emoticon.)

The key – or at least we convince ourselves that the key – is to keep the lowest possible profile which means no visiting friends, no restaurants, and no shopping for my daughter’s upcoming birthday. I probably wouldn’t have been able to decide between the “Team Infidel” and “Somebody in Afghanistan Loves Me” T-shirts anyway.

Plus there’s no time to shop – I’m busy celebrating the groundbreaking of the Razia Jan Community College! – and finishing up filming of our documentary What Tomorrow Brings that features the first school Jan started – a K-12 school for girls in this same small village.

Razia Jan surrounded by village elders as they listen to students singing.

The groundbreaking was spectacular, and the girls were even more poised and beautiful than I could have imagined – singing, reciting poetry, giving speeches in Dari and English. To imagine that some of them arrived in 2008 unable to write their own names…
Jan only wanted the girls in the spotlight during the ceremony – and did they shine! To see all their fathers and the village elders cheering them on (as much as Afghan men cheer – they weren’t all pom-pommy or anything) made it all that much more of a celebration – not only because of what the college will make possible in the future, but also for what has been achieved so far.

When Jan opened the K-12 school 8 years ago, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for her project. But during this weekend’s ceremony, the men were all smiles and full of praise as one-by-one they laid the first bricks for the foundation.

To give you a sense of how much young women in this area want this college – the day after the groundbreaking, three teens arrived to talk to Razia. They’d walked eight miles to tell her their story: They are in 11th grade, but are worried that when they graduate, the college will be full. So they want to register now to attend in two years.

Senior Shakira recites an original poem. Behind her is classmate Mursal who is Master of Ceremonies for the college groundbreaking, and the youngest Zabuli graduate. Mursal is 14-years-old and has skipped two grades during her time at the Zabuli Education Center.

I’d tell you everything, but don’t want to have to announce a spoiler alert for the film. What I can tell you is that hidden in the college foundation is a candy treasure. Mounds of candy were dumped into wet cement at the close of the ceremony (save a handful pocketed by the mason). If you go after it, don’t be surprised by the sticky red stuff – that’s goat blood from the celebratory sacrifice. Don’t be sad. They feed the goat candy before slitting its throat. Seriously.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 11.58.13 PM A spoonful of sugar…

Today is Independence Day in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the fireworks they’re expecting aren’t the kind you want to leave your house to see. The General in charge of security in the city has assured everyone that “there is no security vacuum.” But maybe that’s exactly what’s needed. Dyson boasts the ability to pick up bowling balls, and according to its website, the vacuum giant “uses patented cyclone technology to spin dirt out of the air.” Trap the bad guys in a man-made cyclone? That sounds like a good plan to me.

The head of security for Deh’Subz District tells the crowd he is honored to lay one of the first stones of the foundation for The Razia Jan Community College.

Right now, in the small village of Deh’Subz, Afghanistan, the first private, free, rural women’s college in the nation’s history is being built

Read the full article on Upworthy here.

Digging to Argentina

A few things I’ve enjoyed learning on this trip – outside of our filming:

1. Argentina is where Japanese kids dig to in the sandbox. Yuki (our pet for the past two weeks) is anxious to get to South America, too.

He’s not going to China…

2. In Japan – where being the eldest is such a point of honor – the ranking in twin births is interesting. The first baby born is considered the youngest. The baby born second is the oldest. While filming SON OF SAICHI, we met Saichi’s great-grandaughters – twins Miu and Reika. Their mom tells us that even though Reika was born a few minutes after Miu, she is considered the eldest.

Reika (left) & Miu (right)

3. Sushi-go-rounds are about as much fun as you can have at a restaurant. An eating frenzy akin to tossing chum to sharks. And cheap. Every plate is 100 yen (108 with tax) – that’s one dollar. Not into raw fish? Don’t despair. The conveyor belt offers up sushi-sized mini hamburgers on rice. Looking for something made fresh? Just order off the computer menu and a high speed “train” shoots out your selection from the kitchen.

Waiting for the bullet train carrying dessert.

Beth Balaban with our wonderful translator Marion and Hidekazu, Saichi’s son. We’re all proud of our plate collection!

For updates on our production of SON OF SAICHI, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Giant Hornet Juice

Just when I thought there was nothing left to say about the terrifying Japanese Giant Hornet, Hidekazu pulls out his Giant Hornet Juice.

“Just one drop, and I feel like stinging someone,” he says. “It’s power.”

It turns out being deadly isn’t the giant hornet’s only gift. Its strength, speed, and endurance are to be envied: The giant hornet can lift as much as six pounds, fly up to 25mph, and travel 60 miles in one day. Want that kind of power yourself? Find some inspiration from the worm-in-tequila trick, and just add the 3 inch monster – or its larvae – to your favorite hard alcohol (here, that’s shōchū). It’s giant hornet season right now, and I definitely like them much better drowning in booze than buzzing around above our heads.

Killer hornets doin’ the Shochu Soak.

Giant Hornet Larvae Juice. Couple swigs for power.

For more on our filming adventures for SON OF SAICHI, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.