Interview with Sahraa Karimi, Film Director and Scriptwriter

During our Venice School for Human Rights Defenders, we met Sahraa Karimi, Film Director and Scriptwriter, and we had a discussion with our students about the film “Have, Maryam, Ayesha”, which premiered at the 76. Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film with the Orizzonti Prize. Together with our Press Office, we interviewed Ms Karimi.


On Twitter you describe yourself as “An actor of change”. What does the change mean to you and how is it important in our society?

I believe when you are an artist, a filmmaker in particular and a female filmmaker in a very particular; and you are from a country like Afghanistan where the patriarchy exists at a very high level, the society is very traditional, in this case, your profession is not a simple one. It becomes a civic activity through which you can advocate not only for your own rights but also for the rights of the people of your society. As a filmmaker I am not just making films to become famous or get awards, I make films because through storytelling I also reflect on issues and problems that exist inside our society, particularly regarding women's issues. By presenting my films at different film festivals, I also use these platforms to inform the world about our situation and to be the voice of many voiceless people, especially women in my country who don't have this opportunity to talk loudly and to be heard. So here I somehow become a messenger who tries to share the message of my people and at the same time advocate for their rights and through that bring changes to society. 

In 2019 you directed the film “Have, Maryam, Ayesha”, which premiered at the 76. Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film with the Orizzonti Prize. During our Venice School for Human Rights Defenders you had a discussion about it with our students. Could you tell us more about this film, also for our readers?
Three Afghan women from different social backgrounds, living in Kabul, are facing a big challenge in their lives. Hava, a traditional pregnant woman whom no one cares about, is living with her father- and mother-in-law. Her only joy is talking to the baby in her belly. Maryam, an educated TV news reporter, is about to get a divorce from her unfaithful husband that finds out she is pregnant. Ayesha, an 18-year-old girl, accepts to marry her cousin because she is pregnant from her boyfriend who disappears after hearing her pregnancy news. Therefore, she needs to find a doctor to get an abortion and regain her virginity. Each of them has to solve her problem by herself for the first time.
At a closer look, none of the stories is just about maternity. These tales are about the frustration of not being heard and respected, the exasperation of not having a voice, not having a say. Hava, Maryam, and Ayesha’s dreams have been trampled over, their dignity disregarded, their desires ignored. They have no power to influence or make a decision about anything, even Maryam, who seems to be the most emancipated of the three, had to make her decisions as a consequence of the husband’s behavior.
In August 2021 you evacuated from Kabul to Kyiv, due to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Now you are safe and teaching as Visiting Professor at the “CSC - National School of Cinema” in Rome, thanks to the proposal of its President, Marta Donzelli. How is this new experience? For sure, a big change in your life…

After the fall of Kabul, when I had to leave my country, I literally left behind my whole life.  I did not know how to start again, where, and what to do.  I was deeply sad and disappointed at the same time.  I was then invited to the Venice Film Festival to attend a special panel discussion on Afghanistan and Afghan filmmakers.  They also wrote to me that the President of CSC wants to meet with me.  I went to the film festival and had my first meeting with Marta Donzelli, to my surprise she offered me to teach at CSC as a visiting professor.  I remember exactly the moment I received that offer, I was so happy that I just wanted to hug her, but of course, I was shied.  Honestly, Marta Donzelli's offer and then teaching at CSC saved my career and gave me another breath that I can not find a word to express its importance to me and my entire career.  I am very grateful to have the opportunity to teach at this prestigious film school and to be with talented students, part of their journey to becoming professional filmmakers while also working with professors and teachers, some of whom are not only the legends of the history of Italian cinema but also of the world cinema.  This is not just an opportunity for me, but a great privilege and I am grateful. 
How much is education important to ameliorate the life of young girls and women? 

I want to answer your question with the old African proverb:  If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).  
Do you consider yourself an artist but also a Human Rights Defender? How do you integrate both aspects in your work?

I already answered it in the first question. I am an artist and at the same time human rights defender too. Through my stories and through the medium of cinema I advocate for the rights of women in my country. I believe cinema is the most powerful medium through which we can bring changes to society. 

Could you give a message to our network of students, professors, experts, and readers of the GC Human Rights Magazine?

Being a Human Rights Defender is not a specific job. Whatever job you do, whatever profession you do, you can always raise your voice against injustice. It is very important you do not look at human rights as a subject of your study, but have look at it an important responsibility and commitment.  
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