Author Archive

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

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

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 … LEARN MORE

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

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 … LEARN MORE



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.

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

71-year-old Razia Jan, an educator who grew up in a more liberal Afghanistan before Taliban occupation. She later moved to the U.S. to attend Harvard University and then settled in … LEARN MORE

Digging to Argentina

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

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. 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. 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… LEARN MORE

Giant Hornet Juice

Giant Hornet Larvae Juice.  Couple swigs for power.

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

Crew Survival Stories

It was no fun when the rain started.  So why not just bring the game inside?

Enough about the radiation. The crew has survived:

1. Teens firing a pellet gun in the house.

2. An attempted boob grab. Pulsing fingers and all.
Learn More…

The 49th Day

Hidekazu with the "ihais" - spirit tablets - of his brother and father. Written on the tablets are there holy names.  These tablets are kept at the family altar inside the home.

“This is a very important day for sending his spirit on… for sending him on to the next world,” says Tsugiko Ouchi as she prepares what she will wear to today’s memorial service. Her husband, Hiroshima survivor Saichi, died forty-nine days ago, and in the Buddhist tradition, this is the day his spirit will transition to its new life.

Like everything in life now – the post-evacuation life – events big and small become reminders of what has been lost. After spending 20 minutes rifling through everything in her bedroom drawers and carefully separating her dry cleaning, Tsugiko realizes she’s missing her best black kimono – the very thing she wants to wear to today’s service. The kimono, her son tells her, is back home in Yamakiya hanging in a close that seems frozen in time since they were forced to leave after the nuclear disaster. Learn More…


Waiting at the top of the stairs...

Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

It’s so much fun running in new places! I like getting up and out early and discovering how this new-to-me community wakes up and says Good Morning! to the world. It’s especially great here in Kawamata where four breathtaking mountain ranges hug the valley. Even before 5am, elderly men and women are walking their dogs and tending their gardens along the Hirose and Isazawa Rivers.

Around every bend, I find an invitation Learn More…

Beware of the Giant Hornet

A worker carries radioactive-contaminated branches from the forest in Yamakiya, one of the forced evacuation sites.

Yamakiya, Japan – Forced Evacuation Zone

[This] risky, back-breaking, mind-numbingly slow work… involves being tethered to a tree while worrying about whether the Japanese giant hornet will strike. And there’s good reason to fear…Learn More…

Anti-Nuke Undies

It costs $875 to add 7.5lbs of lead to your booty.

Iizaka Village in Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

Current top ranking for most ridiculous conversation goes to:
Me: “We need anti-radioactive underwear.”
Balaban: “Do they sell that at the hardware store?”

Learn More…

Ring of Fire

Our earthquakes are the orange and yellow ones.

10th Floor, Toyoko Inn, Fukushima City

There are lots of fun reasons for a bed to be rattling in the middle of the night. But an earthquake isn’t one of them. The first quake hits at 3:20am. It’s a 5.7 magnitude off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, and feels like a ride on a coin-operated horse at the grocery store. Within ten seconds it’s over.

The second quake two hours later is slightly weaker – 5.6 magnitude – but closer. About twenty miles away right off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. Fear strikes in a waiting-for-the-ceiling-to-crash-down kind of way. I stand paralyzed in the middle of my tiny hotel room with one overarching thought, “I do not want to die in the Japanese equivalent of a Holiday Inn.” Learn More…

The Smell of Cabotage in the Morning

The offending itinerary.

Logan Airport, 4:30am “You may be alright,” Chris, the Air Canada ticket agent tells us. “But it’s risky. That’s flying too close to the sun for me.” And so begins Friday the 13th, and our trip to Japan to film SON OF SAICHI. We’ve been accused – more accurately our travel agent has been accused – of cabotage. It’s illegal. And it means we’re grounded. Google cabotage and you’ll find a Wikipedia entry that highlights our exact situation: Cabotage situations can occur as a consequence of hub-and-spoke operations. Consider that Air Canada has a major hub at Toronto that offers flights to several U.S. cities. While a passenger is able to buy a ticket from Boston to Toronto, and a separate ticket from Toronto to Seattle [in our case Minneapolis] that same day, both flights cannot be offered on the same itinerary because this would effectively be a U.S. domestic… LEARN MORE

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