Beth Murphy

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


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.


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…


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


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

BostonKabulLove1

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.

BostonKabulLove1

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


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


Progress

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)


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 2

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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


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.


THE LIST’s Kirk Johnson Writes Book

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Kirk Johnson’s new book, “To Be a Friend Is Fatal: A Story from the Aftermath of America at War,” tells the story of The List Project and the Iraqis who stepped forward to help the United States. The book is being published by Scriber and will hit bookshelves in July 2013


NYT Op-Doc by Director Beth Murphy

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With the release of NYT Op-Doc FORGOTTEN IN IRAQ — based on our feature film THE LIST — director Beth Murphy writes a director’s statement of her personal experience and questions President Obama’s role in this issue.

Read Beth’s Article Here


Women’s Adventure Magazine Profile

“Beth Murphy depicts courage and compassion in her new film, THE LIST,” says Women’s Adventure Magazine in its latest issue. Read Article


CNN highlights crisis in girl’s education in Afghan

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CNN interviews director Beth Murphy about our most recent work WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS as the fight for girl’s education in Afghanistan continues. Read Article


The Family Altar

An ancestral altar where the living pay respects to the dead and appreciate the unity of all the ancestors, and the importance of family lineage.

Tsugiko Ouchi is 87-years-old, yet giggles like a school girl as she hands us a worn copy of a newspaper article. There she is in the accompanying picture, kissing her husband, Saichi, a survivor of both Hiroshima and the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. “I was visiting him in the nursing home,” she tells us, “and as I was getting ready to leave, he looked so sad. So I asked him for a kiss.” Such displays of public affection are rare here, and even more so among the elderly. When you’re in Tsugiko’s presence, she is perpetually making and serving green tea. A silver cylinder with a tiny knob on top holds the leaves which she extracts with a small matching scoop to top off a mesh strainer. She stands as she does this, and the slight age curvature of her back is pronounced in this position. Slowly, she lowers… LEARN MORE


Filming “Son of Saichi”

Hidekazu, the son of two-time nuclear radiation survivor Saichi, works with a student human rights group to study the environmental impact of the Fukushima disaster.

SON OF SAICHI (pronounced Sah-ee-chee) is the working title of our new film – a Principle Pictures short – and the reason Beth Balaban and I are heading to Fukushima, Japan today. We are trying to understand what it means to reconsider a life, reconceive catastrophe and imagine a future. Our story focuses on the Ouchi family, affected in unimaginable ways by nuclear radiation. Sixty years ago, when the first atomic weapons were dropped on Japan, Saichi Ouchi was a military medic in Hiroshima. After World War II, he returned to Kawamata, the fertile land of his youth, where he took over the family rice farm with his wife, Tsugiko. When the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was commissioned 60 miles away in 1971, they were too busy raising 4 children to give it much thought. Saichi’s family didn’t want to move him into a nursing home two years ago, but… LEARN MORE