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
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
A photo series. Click Here to read the story behind the pictures. Click Here to read Reflections from Sahera.
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 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” 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)
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
“Beth Murphy depicts courage and compassion in her new film, THE LIST,” says Women’s Adventure Magazine in its latest issue. Read Article
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
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
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
On Sunday July 29, THE LIST will be screening in the hometown of director, Beth Murphy, at the Woods Hole Film Festival. We asked her a few questions on the dawn of her return home for the screening, about the upcoming festival and what comes next. Where does the Woods Hole Film Festival stand in terms of some of the other festivals you’ve been to? My favorite festivals are ones that have great market potential, the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with audiences, and the chance for a fantastic filmmaker experience. What really is home is the Woods Hole Film Festival, a gem of a festival, and one that really cares about independent filmmakers. One way they do that is through an exciting new initiative with the online international news site GlobalPost. This collaboration supports documentary works-in-progress, and THE LIST was the first film selected for this initiative…. LEARN MORE
Recently, we sat down with our Director of Photography & Senior Editor, Kevin Belli to pick his brain on how he got his start at Principle Pictures and all that he wishes to accomplish. What inspired you to get involved in documentary filmmaking? Seeing documentary films for the first time, films like Don’t Look Back and Crumb and Gimme Shelter, made me view documentaries as an actual art form. Not only did the films really inspire me, but I realized it was the avenue to see more of the world and be able to film real stories, and that was a lot more appealing to me than creating something fictional or from a script. The truth is stranger than fiction, right? How did you begin to work with Principle Pictures? Ten years ago when I was working as a news editor, Beth was looking for an assistant editor. When the… LEARN MORE
Associate Producer Nathan Tisdale reflects on the importance of female directors. I was glad to see Melissa Silverstein’s article on IndieWire pick out the films directed by women at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Reading her recent posts about the stagnant growth of female directors in film, I am proud to see Beth Murphy and her fellow female directors featured. These women bring a unique voice to documentary and narrative filmmaking. Melissa identified a solution to reverse the trend of underdog women directors – start talking about them and championing their films! Tribeca will be a good place to start.
Biking through the streets of Boston yesterday on the final leg of the 3-day ride from Ground Zero, I rode through Kenmore Square feeling like it was 1994, and I was navigating from one of my grad classes at Boston University to my tiny studio apartment in Beacon Hill. As a little girl I had dreamed of studying at BU; it was my Dad’s alma mater, and some of my best memories as a child are of traveling there from our home in Connecticut to watch my Dad play his trumpet in the alumni band. While he practiced, my Mom and I enjoyed the school and the city. One year that meant picking through all the treasures at a tag sale being held in the Music Department. There was a luxurious red snow fox stole—with glass eyes, four legs, feet and a tail—that for $1.50 was clipped around my neck… LEARN MORE
I just arrived at the Club Quarters Hotel overlooking Ground Zero in New York City. In about 12 hours, my husband, Dennis, and I will join 43 other bike riders for a 270-mile journey back to Boston to support Beyond the 11th, an organization borne out of the tragedy of 9/11 and focused on healing the wounds from that day. Towering near the hotel is One WTC — a structure that continues to climb 84 floors. Below, construction vehicles buzz around the haunting crater where the World Trade Center towers once stood. I can hear the jackhammers and loader engines in my room as I catch up on emails: forms for fiscal sponsorship need filling out; a meeting for our Executive Producer at the Toronto Film Festival needs confirming; licensing fees need to be worked out with Brazil’s largest TV network. Everything needed. Needed now. Distracting me from connecting with… LEARN MORE
I was a really big theater geek in high school, and have always been into still photography. At some point during my senior year, I realized that film was a great way to combine these two passions. The ability to tell someone’s story through film appealed to me and I really liked the artistic aspect of filmmaking. So I decided that I wanted to pursue filmmaking at Boston University, and eventually I realized that documentaries appeal to me the most. I spent about a year and a half in Chicago and moved back to my hometown of Plymouth about two years ago. That same week my alumni high school director told me about a producer at a documentary production company right in downtown Plymouth who was looking for interns. I contacted Sean, sent him my resume, went in for an interview and within two weeks I was interning at Principle… LEARN MORE
Alex Ssekweyama lives in the western Ugandan village of Kakumiro. His family’s status in the community comes from his mother’s success – people walk far distances to visit her drug shop where she doesn’t only dispense life-saving medications, she also confirms diagnoses, makes referrals to hospitals and always shares a kind word and gentle touch. The family home is the only gated one on the street, and the property is packed with prized mango, banana and orange trees. Life here serves as the inspiration for Alex’s singing and songwriting. When he heard we were coming to visit, he put on his best suit – a dark, over-sized jacket with pants that nearly matched. He was beaming when he greeted us. My name is Rioman. Well, that’s what I call myself when I sing, he grinned. And I want to be Justin Bieber. He could hardly contain himself while his three… LEARN MORE
As our car zig-zagged to avoid pothole after pothole on a poorly paved road in Eastern Uganda, we caught glimpses of life: a motorcycle passed carrying two men and a cow (the dead animal was on the very back and the passenger held its legs around his waist); locals dined at a restaurant called God is Good Pork Joint; and two men ambled down the road holding an enormous bat—an outstretched wing in each man’s hand gave the mammal a 4-foot wingspan.We were in a hurry, but never has there been a better reason for a U-turn. We approached the men to get a close-up look and find out what they planned to do with it. “We’re going to eat it,” they laughed. It’s true. Ugandans do eat bats. But Lilian, the health worker traveling with us, wasn’t convinced that’s what these men had in mind. There is a common… LEARN MORE