Author Archive

Freedom Is Like Oxygen: A Story to Honor International Women’s Day

Today – International Women’s Day – Principle Pictures honors Margaret Marsahll, a woman we met this year who inspires us greatly. Growing up in the small coal-and-steel town of Newcastle, South Africa, Margaret Marshall doesn’t remember having any dreams for her future. “It sounds strange, but I just didn’t,” she says. The truth was the women in her life were not the kind of role models who inspired her to dream. “So few white South African women had careers,” Marshall remembers, that she could not envision herself ever having one either. She was 4-years-old when apartheid became the rule of law in her country, and she remembers her father, an industrial chemist, and her mother, a homemaker, staying clear of politics, and accepting the status quo. “In South Africa I knew something was wrong, I didn’t like how black people were treated, but I didn’t have the context in which… LEARN MORE

National Journal Profiles DC Capitol Screening


National Journal is regarded as the most credible and influential publication in Washington, providing more than 3 million influentials in public policy and business with the insights they need to make government work.

An Iraqi Schindler’s List
By Christopher Snow Hopkins

What has happened to the tens of thousands of Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces during the Iraq War? Some have been ostracized, some have been harassed, and some have been beheaded. In The List, documentarian Beth Murphy traverses the Middle East in search of displaced Iraqis who have applied for a special visa to enter the U.S. and have either been ignored or rebuffed. As the State Department

Capitol Hill film screening to highlight 18,000 Iraqi allies in danger


This report by Rebecca Lee Sanchez first appeared on Global Post on November 20th, 2013 as part of the GroundTruth blog.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings aims to remind the US that more than two-thirds of Iraqis who aided in US military operations related to the Iraq War have not been resettled as promised.

WASHINGTON — A 2008 program to provide 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis who “played critical roles in assisting American forces” since the 2003 invasion of Iraq is nearing its expiration, set for the end of December. Of 25,000 visas alotted, only 7,000 have been awarded.

Those Iraqi citizens, and their loved ones, who have been left behind live in danger of kidnapping, torture and murder by extremist groups that call them “traitors.” As of August 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 70,000 Iraqis had worked as translators, engineers, civil society experts and advisors for … LEARN MORE

Girls’ Schools In Afghanistan Wonder “What Tomorrow Brings”

7th Graders celebrate after doing well on a final exam.

Director Beth Murphy is in Afghanistan filming the documentary “What Tomorrow Brings,” and as part of a year-long reporting project to document the drawdown of US troops. This ‘Special Report’ was first published by GlobalPost, NBC and Huffington Post, and is funded in part by The Ford Foundation.

KABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — On the outskirts of Kabul, the mountainous land is rocky and dry, haunted by decades of war. Although the people here are fortunate to have avoided the violence that has pervaded other parts of the country during this fighting season—a time that stretches across the spring, summer and early fall—it is still a tense time in … LEARN MORE

A Daughter’s Poem

Shakira shares her poem "Mother" with her class.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Being held by her mother when she was sick is what inspired Shakira, a 9th grader at the Zabuli School in Afghanistan, to write her first poem. Shakira was lying down and shaking with fever when her mother knelt down on the floor beside her, and delicately embraced her.

“It was a feeling I had never known, and I didn’t want it to end,” she says. “This was the first time I ever felt physical comfort like this from my mother.”

When her fever subsided, she was anxious to … LEARN MORE

Good To Be Back, Kabul. I Missed You.

Kabul Arrival

On our first day back filming WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS, some sure signs I’m not in Massachusetts anymore:

1. This morning’s rush hour experience: watching a truck plow into a motorbike and speed away (as fast as is possible in the chaotic, unrelenting stop-and-go traffic that defines Kabul). A traffic cop gave chase – first on foot and then by jumping into the back of a passing SUV – waving his traffic paddle all the while. No one seemed too concerned about the motorcyclist limping to the side of the road.

2. Having a perfectly normal conversation about … LEARN MORE

Dad’s Litmus Test


My 12-hour layover in London is coming to an end, and I’m about to board for Istanbul with a final leg on to Kabul. Here, I’d like to share “Dad’s Litmus Test” that was first published by Huffington Post earlier this month.

Before my father passed away, he asked me the same question before each of my trips to Afghanistan. “Afghanistan,” he’d repeat back to me, mulling it over like any father might and then after a pause he’d say, “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

My answer was always yes, along with a quick synopsis of the film I was working on and the footage I hoped to bring home. It was never a question of how necessary the trip was to me, but rather the simpler matter of following each story where it … LEARN MORE

Indiewire Announces Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund Recipients


The Tribeca Film Institute and Gucci announced today the nine recipients of their Documentary Fund. Now in its sixth year, the Fund provides production and finishing finances to documentary filmmakers from around the world with feature-length films that tackle critical social issues. Nine films have been selected out of the 500 submissions from 60 countries, receiving a total of $150,000 in funds. The films this year come from a group of filmmakers that reflect an expansive range of experience. Established directors such as Marshall Curry (“Run and Gun”) and DA Pennebaker & Chris Hagedus (“Unlocking The Cage”) are a few of this year’s recipients. Others include the emerging talents of Jeremy Williams (“On a Knife Edge”), Johan Grimonprez (“The Shadow World”), James Spione (“Silenced”), and Ryan White & Ben Cotner (“Perry v. Schwarzenegger”). The range of subject matter presented in these projects is just as varied, covering issues such as… LEARN MORE

Reflections from Sahera

Sahera Nazia sends her sympathy to Boston.

I first met Sahera in 2006 while filming BEYOND BELIEF, and it was comforting to be with her again just hours after learning about the Boston attack. This image of her is not part of the original photo series “To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.” because I wanted to share in a more substantive way her moving reflections about the tragedy and the experience of being able to send a message of sympathy to America. This is what she said: We are all creatures of God. It is my feeling as a human being. My feeling for humanity. Because we also suffer a lot in Afghanistan. We see these things happening all the time. And this was my personal feeling – I became very sad when I heard the news on the TV. Also, my kids – my whole family became very sad. These people just went to see the… LEARN MORE

The Story Behind the Pictures


This is the story behind my photo series – To Boston. From Kabul. With Love. When I left Boston for Afghanistan nearly 6 weeks ago, it was with some trepidation – the first I’ve felt after several filming trips here. Why now? Perhaps because the Afghanistan I’m visiting this Spring is not the same as the country I traveled to in 2001/2002, 2006 and 2009. It has experienced a decade of war, and I’ve seen firsthand how the outlook has changed among so many — from one of cautious hope for a better future to one of grim acceptance that this last painful, protracted period of violence and political upheaval may still not yield freedom from oppression in this country. Just last week I woke up to frantic emails and texts from home after the worst insurgent attack in the country in over a decade. “Yes, I’m fine. Safe.” I… LEARN MORE

To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.


A photo series. Click Here to read the story behind the pictures. Click Here to read Reflections from Sahera.

God’s House

Beth Delivering Food Small

Friday has become a sacred day for me here in Afghanistan. Not because it’s the Muslim holy day and we take part in any religious service, but because we’ve been able to help Razia Jan as she devotes her day to serving others. Again this morning, Razia and I made 40 halwa sandwiches (cream of wheat cereal mixed with cardamom, raisins, sugar and butter nestled in yeast-free paraki flatbread) that we delivered to people on the streets of Kabul. The halwa hot wraps went from our hands into those of many walks of life: women sitting nearly motionless in the road, cradling their babies; young boys busy collecting scrap from garbage heaps – hoping to trade it in for some money; and police officers working long hours at the checkpoint closest to our house (because as Kevin points out, there’s a little politics in everything, right?). I spent my entire… LEARN MORE

HuffPost: The President Said What?!

This is a piece I contributed to today’s Huffington Post. KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – For many years, I kept this Madeline Albright quote tucked beneath the glass cover on my desk: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’ve always believed that to be female, by definition, is to be feminist; and I don’t subscribe to any movement to redefine feminism to include a fight for all social justice issues (human rights activism has that covered), any more than I’d want to redefine gay rights to include a fight for equal pay for women. Feminism, at its core, is advocating for women’s social, political, economic and educational equality. Despite — or perhaps because of — the affinity and responsibility I feel to women both locally and globally, I’m appalled by the minutiae that is consuming our public discourse in the U.S. about what is… LEARN MORE

The Taliban & The Ice Cream Enemy

THE topic of conversation here is Tuesday’s big Taliban attack. Nine bad guys driving Afghan Army vehicles and disguised as Afghan soldiers attacked a government compound to free 10 of their friends, all prisoners who were being transferred to a courthouse to stand trial on a range or charges, including planting roadside bombs. They were all wearing suicide bomb vests – but only two of them put the vests to use. Death toll right now is up to 53, and there’s conflicting information about whether the 10 prisoners are on the loose (in news here the Taliban says they’re free; government says they’re dead). It’s one of the worst insurgent attacks in 10 years, and the Afghans we’re working with are visibly shaken by what such a large-scale attack says about the strength of the Taliban movement. “This is exactly how it started last time,” our translator told us, referring… LEARN MORE


President Karzai addresses an audience at Georgetown University's historic Gaston Hall during a trip to Washington.

“Progress” is one in a series of poems I’ve written based on speeches. All of the words here are extracted from a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at Georgetown University on January 11, 2013. Progress Forget less pleasant aspects Of our relationship A great cause: Freeing Afghanistan It went all right With the U.S. taxpayer’s money (Laughter) (Laughter) (Laughter) (Laughter) It did contribute massively To mobile phones We had walkie-talkies: Orange Progress. In Afghanistan there is a life Donkey carts, music, honking A return of the Taliban. The War on Terror Has been costly. We have lost. You’ve heard of grapes? (Laughter)

Guns, God and Ants

The sugar trail is completed.

Going to Easter mass in this Islamic Republic just felt… naughty. But there we were, hopping in a cab nearly two hours early to make it to the Italian Embassy on time for the 5:30pm service. It was a scene of guns and God inside the chapel with everyone from heavily camouflaged Army soldiers to women in heels packing pistols on their hips. While Secret Service for US Ambassador James Cunningham were first to arrive, the Ambassador himself came through the doors only after they’d been closed. The Original Chapel is the only Catholic church in Afghanistan, and there’s an interesting history to it. In 1919 after the third Afghan-Anglo War, Afghanistan won its independence from Britain, and Italy was the first country to recognize that independence. As a thank you, the Afghan government granted Rome’s request to build a chapel. The priest here – Fr. Giuseppe Moretti – is… LEARN MORE

THE LIST Screening with Special Q&A at the BDC

You don’t want to miss this event! THE LIST will screen at the Bronx Documentary Center THIS Saturday, April 6th, at 7:30PM – but what’s really special about this showing is the Q&A that follows. Kirk W. Johnson, the main subject of the film, will join Saad Saaed, an Iraqi who formerly worked for the U.S. government, and George Packer (New Yorker) for a lively discussion about the film and the current plight of U.S. affiliated Iraqis. Advance tickets on sale now!

Afghan Journal 4 – March 28

This burqa cost $20.

We had an incredible experience with Razia Jan this morning feeding Kabul’s poorest with her sweet homemade halwa. Halwa is cream of wheat with cardamom, raisins, sugar, butter, oil (everything has oil, oil and more oil) – and she made an enormous pot. Our role? We helped her pull the little stems off the raisins. Razia then bought 40 big pieces of flatbread, put a heaping scoop of halwa in the middle of each one, and folded each end of the bread over on itself. These halwa pockets were then stacked on trays, and we drove around Kabul distributing them to the needy. It was such a special experience, and I have visions of replicating it for Boston’s homeless. Another memorable moment: I fell through a glass table while filming a school staff meeting. Everyone agrees that sitting on the glass table in the first place was a bad idea…. LEARN MORE

Afghan Journal 3: One with the Walnut

Beth Murphy and Razia Jan peeling walnuts.

Afghan Journal 3 is a piece I contributed to today’s Huffington Post: HUFFINGTON POST KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Happy 1392! It’s Nowruz — New Year’s Day — in Afghanistan. Three calendars are followed here. Nowruz is a Persian calendar. Then there’s the Islamic calendar — on which we are in the year1434. And, of course, it’s also 2013. I’m celebrating the New Year with Razia Jan, founder of the Zabuli School, the very first girls’ school in a conservative Afghan village, and the only free private school in the country. I already admired her enough to want to make a documentary film about her work, and this is the second time I’ve come to Afghanistan to film with her. Razia is the kind of woman I can’t help but respect: brave, idealistic, kind, committed — and fun. She’s also the ideal cultural guide. Today, she is teaching me the secret to… LEARN MORE

Yes! Bipartisan Support for SIV Extension

We should say: It’s about time! But we want to say: Thank you. Thank you to the 19 U.S. Representatives–Democrats and Republicans—who have sent a letter to the President with this message: Extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) legislation! The SIV legislation is critical to fulfilling America’s moral obligation to the Iraqis who supported our military and government during the war. These Iraqis – considered U.S. allies by us, are considered traitors in Iraq. They are in danger, and without Congressional action the SIV Program designed to help them will expire. Here’s the background: In 2008 the National Defense Authorization Act approved up to 5,000 special visas annually for five years for Iraqi and Afghan nationals. In 5 years, only 22% of the available Iraqi SIVs have been used. It’s even less for Afghans: 12% issued. In our documentary THE LIST and our NYT Op-Doc, we highlight the failure of… LEARN MORE

Afghan Journal 2


At the beginning of the year I was introduced to the work of Malina Suliman, a fearless, young Afghan artist. It was her haunting graffiti of a skeleton shrouded by a burqa that made me feel the need to get in touch with her. I had to find a way to tell her the impact her work had on me. And I wanted to find a way to get a picture of this image and hang it in my office. The problem is that Malina (just 23yo)—and her bold graffiti—are in Kandahar. Birthplace to—and home of—the Taliban. It is one of the most dangerous areas in the entire country, a place where women suffer the worst abuses. Incredibly, however, today I discovered Malina’s signature motif here in Kabul – a second burqa-clad skeleton on a mud brick wall. When I do hang this in my office, it will be a… LEARN MORE

Afghan Journal 1

Kabul Arrival

We arrived in Afghanistan yesterday after a 38 hour journey from Addis Ababa. Our travel agent received this report (in part): Hi Allison, I’m sorry to report that we had a major problem during our travel. The suggested itinerary – which we booked – of arrival in Dubai at 3am and departure for Kabul at 4:20am was an absolute impossibility. No way that can be done, and it should never be proposed to any future travelers…. There were serious carry-on weight restrictions in Dubai, and our four personal bags (a knapsack and camera bag each) had to be cut down to two. As these bags carried our laptops/remote editing stations, camera equipment, external hard drives, still cameras and lenses, it was difficult to decide what or how to part with any of it. Maybe we should have taken the tact of the overbearing Saudi man who when ordered to hand… LEARN MORE

THE LIST at the Sarasota Film Festival


This year marks the 15th anniversary for the Sarasota Film Festival, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their 2013 program. Sarasota announced their lineup today – including two screenings of THE LIST! Saturday, April 13th 11:15AM @ Regal Hollywood 20, Theater 11 Sunday, April 14th 2:45PM @ Regal Hollywood 20, Theater 12

My Old Country Home

Today – on the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster – we remember the country and people of Japan – especially our friends in Yamakiya who have opened their homes and hearts to us and our cameras. In their honor Dir. Beth Murphy contributed this piece to Huffington Post.