Monday, May 29, 2017

Alakain

Sahar Fetrat is a journalist and filmmaker based in Kabul, Afghanistan. She recently registered a film production company and is starting this campaign to raise funds to run the company and to purchase production equipment. Through this initiative, Sahar is hoping to create a platform and base for Afghan Female Filmmakers, photographers and storytellers to create a network, have access and use the facilities of the company to produce quality work with minimum cost. Here is her story. 

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your growing years, education and professional trajectory, perhaps? 
My name is Sahar Fetrat. I am an activist, filmmaker and journalist from Kabul Afghanistan. I  am a senior Business student at American University of Afghanistan and I have just registered a film production company in Kabul. I was born during the time of Taliban so my family flew to Iran as refugee and then after couple of years they took refuge in Pakistan, and I think it was around the end of 2006 that we returned to Kabul I was about 10 years old that time. So I actually grew up in Kabul, and this experience, with all the many challenges, have been a significant and life changing one because in nowhere in this world would I really know about what does it mean to be an Afghan woman and what is the value of fight and what is the taste of freedom that you fight for.  In countries like Afghanistan, sometimes, growth is forced on you. it’s not to say that I regret anything but I do not really remember much from my teenage years. for as long and as far as I remember, I have been concerned about activism, feminism and the ongoing fight and it is stroll like that. :) 

Your first documentary project was Detter er Kabul. What inspired that? 
My journey as  a filmmaker started in 2011 as part of a training project called “Global Video Letters”  in which teenagers from different countries would send video letters to each other introducing their communities, the challenges they face and changes that they would see. In these videos my sister Sadaf, my friend Nargis and I, showed all that we enjoyed in Kabul and probably at that time the image of Afghanistan and the lives of Afghan women in the international media was always about oppression and problems so our producers were amazed and requested us to continue filming and we named it This is Kabul . Only by holding a small camera, we found ourselves feeling  a lot more empowered and I personally found storytelling so fascinating and powerful . The film was screened at the Noble Peace Center Exhibition in Norway and at the “Kabul Fresh” category of films at the “14th Mumbai Film Festival” (MAMI), which showcased eight different films in an attempt to highlight new voices in Afghan cinema in 2011.

If you reflect on your journey so far, what would you say your most important and defining moments have been? 
When I was 17, I made a documentary about street harassment when I was a trainee in a filmmaking workshop in Kabul, it was 2013, not very long ago but at that time people wouldn’t talk much about harassment, so I just wanted to  tackle the issue and tell how it affects me as a young woman every day. the documentary is mostly filmed with a hidden camera and shows only about 10% of the harassment that we encounter as women every day. this documentary won a prize in Italy and the news was out in Afghan social media, some people supported, some denied and said abusive words but it created a vibe, people talked about it, many young girls and the issue was brought and the documentary was broadcasted  in some of famous Afghan TV channels, there was a live debate program about street harassment and some universities, organizations and activists started doing more research on the topic so after that I have seen many many women and men talking about harassment and to some extend the intensity of harassment has decreased in streets of Kabul. so that experienced showed me the power of a voice and a video. In 2012, I bought a bicycle and rode it, some men hit me with fruits, tomato and small rocks but later when they saw that I didn’t give up, they stopped and even would wave hands when I was passing and last year I saw many teenage girls riding bicycle in the same streets without fear and more fierce than me. And more than these, my defining moments are those, in which I challenge myself to speak up in situations where it is bitter, where it’s hard, where there is fear because I know activism and standing for truth is not always convenient, it takes a lot of courage and the courage is not always inside you, you need to push yourself. And some of those moments where I talk to young girls and boys  about self care, self love, self respect and self confidence.  

What have your biggest challenges been? How have you dealt with them? 
As a woman who is outspoken and shares her opinion, I have always been challenged
what is  greater challenge than patriarchy? through the lens of patriarchy your are always seen as less, smaller and incapable. As a storyteller I have seen some challenges on my way and those are because I am a woman, they don’t come with being a journalist but my gender identity. My biggest challenge since very young age has been to exhibit existence, ability and capability because even in those places where people shout about feminism and equality , I have seen a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of sexism and I have caught people not considering or counting on the work that women do. I have said this before and I will say this again that as Afghan women we are not yet ready to fight for equality, at this time we are fighting for our existence, for example if a man raise his finger to talk we must raise both hands and ten fingers in order to be seen. 

As a documentary filmmaker, you are a storyteller who takes fact out into the world through an observer's lens. When you deal with difficult subjects, how do you retain your objectivity? 
It is actually hard to maintain objectivity in issues that directly affect you as an individual too. and almost all topics that I work on are like that, so I try to disconnect myself (the journalist) from myself ( the woman who has been affected) and try to see other perspectives and deeper roots of the problem. 

What has your toughest project so far been? 
Kabul is relatively better than many of other provinces for women to exist and work. but as a filmmaker, I found it really challenging at first to hold a camera and go to communities or film in the streets. people show different reactions when they see you with a camera, I have been hit by small rocks, tomato, fruits and I have also been harassed while filming and once a young man slapped my character while she was buying a bicycle. many times when I film, I see a lot of men surrounding me and it’s hard to breath and creates some fear sometimes, but these things will change gradually as we have more women to hold cameras and go to places to film.  I had some tough moments and projects as  journalist and filmmaker but I think the toughest projects  are yet to come. Because now I have become stronger and I observe the issues more closely and I have much more to say. 

You've been the voice of those that are otherwise not heard. How does that feel? 
I think first of all, I have been a voice for myself and it has not been and still is not easy. patriarchy is in no favor of female voice, because female voice is intimidating and challenging for  them. Every day when I open my eyes my mission is to not fall, to stand strong and to keep my voice loud when it is tough to breath and talk. So to me being a voice or having this voice is so important and it is like a  "responsibility" because it shows representation and it manifests existence in a country where you would be denied otherwise. To me it is also about challenging the state of victimhood and oppression as a woman. the responsibility and challenges of women like me, who think that they are in a way initiated, who challenge patriarchy and try to redefine womanhood and female power  is even more, because we don’t only have to challenge patriarchy in Afghanistan but internationally we have to challenge the way the world look at us, as well as  trying to tell the world that we no longer want to be pitied or seen as incapables or victims and of course this doesn’t mean that we are all champions too. it is an ongoing fight and even the strongest ones of us gets to be victimized under the shadow of patriarchy but what important is that we fight and we do not accept oppression as our destiny. 

What goes into making your creative process what it is? How do you identify your topics of choice and how do you put the documentary together? 
As an activist having a hand in art too, I find it important to have sharp eyes and ears. I see filmmaking as a way of creating awareness and participating in activism and advocacy. Since women’s voices in Afghanistan have not been heard much and if there were some attempt, they were usually by men. so I usually chose the topics that matter to me as a woman, issues that have not been discussed much or they have not been critically observed or questioned by women themselves, I spend some good time doing research on the topic, trying to see all the different perspectives on the topic. 

Let's talk about Alakain. How did it come about?
Holding a camera and being able to tell stories has personally empowered me a lot and I have started this initiative  as a business hoping to create a safe and sustaining platform for young female filmmakers and storytellers to create a network, share and develop story ideas, assist one another and create quality work with minimum costs. Working as a filmmaker, I understand the challenges such as funding, lack of support, lack of access to equipment. With this platform I want to be able to address those challenges and create the support system as well as empowering myself and other women to produce more work and tell more stories. 

How can we support Alakain?
Because we are a production company, any kind of support could be helpful. From equipment donation, to financial donation, or by sharing some opportunities. and collaboration. But for now, I have started an online fund-raising campaign which could help us with the operation costs in the first few months. Here is  the link:  Click here to support Sahar's film production company organized by Sahar Fetrat

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