Principle Pictures

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.

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

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

On the Lighter Side

Ultra Police Force Logo

We’re dealing with some serious, heavy topics on this shoot, but thanks to Hidekazu and his farmer friends there are lots of lighter moments, too. First up: the pornographic potato. I once picked a tomato out of our garden that looked like a fat, baby bird – beak and all – but I’ve never seen something quite like this. —————————————- In Japanese shiro is the word for “white,” the color of good luck. And Hidekazu loves all things shiro. His dog – a solid white Akita is named Shiro. His bird, Youki (Snow), sports a pure white plume. And today, Hidekazu went to a famous friend’s farm to pick out a white chicken. But white chickens are not the reason Chusako is famous. Chusako is famous for his beefy Shamo gamebirds that are prize-winning cock fighters, and people come from all across Japan to see his birds battle it out… LEARN MORE

Of Persimmons and Bells

I love this haiku by Masaoka Shiki. As we drive through Fukushima, the persimmon trees in the snow continue to capture my attention. Here, Shiki awakens so many senses in so few lines…tasting, hearing, seeing. Of Persimmons and Bells kaki kueba kane ga naru nari Horyuji as I eat a persimmon the bell starts ringing at Hôryûji Temple I was inspired to write my own haiku after filming the decontamination effort in Yamakiya. The irradiated dirt-filled bags that we saw dotting the farmland here in August have now been moved across the street and piled on top of one another – it’s an interim step, and no final step is possible because no one knows where the bags should ultimately go. Because these poison bags are considered public, they have to be put on public property – so, school grounds have become popular temporary storage areas (not in Yamakiya, but… LEARN MORE

Someday…I Will Return

Fukushima Persimmon Winter

One of the most striking things about Fukushima in the winter is a persimmon tree in the snow. The fruits have lost the wild orange color that defines them in the fall and now dangle from naked tree limbs like scarlet Christmas ornaments. Festive as they look, they shouldn’t be here now. Locals should have picked the persimmons when they were ripe, then carefully peeled, dried and painstakingly massaged them over weeks to make hoshigaki, a Japanese specialty. But there’s no locally-made hoshigaki being served on the kotatsu table this season because much of the fruit here has been found to have high levels of radiation from the meltdown of the nuclear plant at Fukushima-Daiichi caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. People tell us they are emotionally exhausted. Everything is under assault: What they eat. How they think. Where they live. The family we’re filming – the Ouchi… LEARN MORE

Sundance Selects DAKOTA DREAM

The Sundance Institute announced the 25 feature-length documentary films that will receive $550,000 in grants from its Documentary Film Program and Fund today. We’re pleased to announce that our film DAKOTA DREAM was selected as one of their recipients. The Sundance Institute considered nearly 696 film proposals worldwide from filmmakers living and working in 104 countries globally, and we feel incredibly honored to be included as one of their selected projects for the 2012 round of support. We are currently in production on DAKOTA DREAM, and we look forward to utilizing The Sundance Institute’s support to bring this story to life.

NYT Op-Doc by Director Beth Murphy

Screen shot 2012-12-07 at 12.10.13

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

Election Day

Today's censored IHT in Pakistan

Misleading arguments, outright lies, vitriol, more lies and more vitriol… the 2012 campaign will be a good one to put behind us. And it’s not just the candidates. I find myself mustering all sorts of criticism for the “other side”–likely spreading half-truths myself; condemning family, friends and strangers who think differently than I do; and (although I believe everyone should vote), secretly hoping only my candidate’s supporters will show up at the polls today. I care deeply about equality and justice for all, how our foreign policy impacts the everyday lives of families in other countries, and what kind of economic and environmental policies my daughter will inherit. But as I look at this short list, I realize other things I’m passionate about aren’t even on it. The first amendment. Other than partisan ramblings sparked by the anti-Muslim video, freedom of speech has not been a serious part of the… LEARN MORE

CNN highlights crisis in girl’s education in Afghan


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



In honor of the 11th anniversary of 9/11, BEYOND BELIEF will be available to view on through the end of the month. We hope you are as moved by Susan and Patti’s story as we were when we met them. Today we continue to be inspired by the courage they demonstrated in choosing acceptance over hate and action over indifference.

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

Best of the Fest


“Every year there is one film that the audience rates so highly, that it really doesn’t have any category. This year, that film is THE LIST,” said Woods Hole Film Festival Director Judy Laster in announcing THE LIST’s win of “Best of the Fest.” While we’re excited by the recognition and so proud of our team, we also know that every day America’s Iraqi allies are running for their lives…in danger because of their affiliation with us – the United States of America. Legislation that was supposed to help 25,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis between 2008 and 2012 is about to expire at the end of September. To date, only 5,700 of those 25,000 Special Immigrant Visa spots have been filled. At the time the legislation was passed, U.S. Army Sergeant Joe Seemiller said, “There are only two types of people that would oppose this bill. Those who do not know all… LEARN MORE



No film is complete without the thoughtful accompaniment of an original score. The score plays an integral part in the overall cinematic experience, inviting you into the story as we follow the characters on their mission. John Califra’s original film score for THE LIST assists the audience on their journey through the film, highlighting moments of tension and creating moments of calm and hope. Califra’s composition compliments Kirk Johnson’s story as a beautiful backdrop to the heartbreaking struggle to bring US affiliated Iraqi refugees home to the United States. Back in February, Director Beth Murphy and DP/Editor Kevin Belli ventured out to the Czech Republic to record Califra’s score with members of the Czech Philharmonic. Join us in the recording studio for a behind the scenes look at the recording of Califra’s score as well as an exclusive look at the process of composing material for THE LIST

An Interview with Kevin Belli


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