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Film Review: Facing the Dragon – The Women Behind the Resistance

Hana Qureshi, BA World Philosophies 

‘Facing the Dragon’ is a documentary film – directed, filmed and produced by Sedika Mojadidi – which follows the stories of two women, Nilofar Ibrahami and Shakila Ebrhaimkhel. Their journeys face no shortage of obstacles as they grapple with the hardships of war, their family’s security and being advocates of women’s rights in an overwhelmingly conservative society. Due to pressure from the international community, women in Afghanistan have slowly become active members in their communities, taking on positions within politics and the media. However, as the US began to withdraw from Afghanistan, the fate of these women who benefitted from international aid and quotas, became uncertain.

“Mojadidi throws us into a bittersweet love story as we watch two women battle between their responsibility as mothers, their duty to their land and their people.”

When we think of Afghanistan, the preconceived image conjured in the minds of many of us is that of war, Islamic fundamentalism and the oppression of women. However, ‘Facing the Dragon’ does well in challenging this narrative by capturing the complexities of womanhood. We watch Nilofar eloquently and decisively addressthe national Parliament on the importance of women’s reform, and share in her heartbreak as she leaves her children and husband in Australia to continue serving her country. Shakila risks her life everyday as an on-the-ground field reporter, committed to writing stories which not only criticise the government, but the Taliban regime. However, after her colleagues are killed in a suicide bombing, she is forced to choose between her career and her family’s safety.  

The aim of Mojadidi’s film is to ‘create a relationship with Afghans as people first, who, like everyone else, are trying to keep their humanity in extraordinarily difficult situations’. As an Afghan-American woman, Mojadidi invites us into Afghanistan through an organic lens, drawing us into a country free from colonial narratives, and exposing us to an Afghanistan unknown to outsiders. Throughout the film, Mojadidi shares with us the beautiful, steady shots of Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, along with the bustling markets of Kabul. However, we are quickly brought back to reality as an unsteady camera man often runs to safety from nearby explosions. Whether it be through Mojadidi’s narration or the stunning cinematography, the audience are constantly reminded of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage and the religious fundamentalism that seeks to destroy it. Mojadidi throws us into a bittersweet love story as we watch two women battle between their responsibility as mothers, alongside their duty to their land and their people.

There is still a long way to go for gender equality in Afghanistan, but Mojadidi’s film is an important step in the right direction for women’s empowerment, not only in Afghanistan, but all over the world. As Nilofar says, ‘our resistance is the art of endurance’. 

‘The film was screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival London, 13-22 March 2019

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