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Documentary Filmmaking Opens New World to Afghanistan Women

When 14 young Afghan women started a video project in Kabul, secretly documenting the history of women under the Taleban regime, they never imagined how far their work would take them. Their documentary, entitled "Afghanistan Unveiled",

has been shown at film festivals in Europe and the U.S.

Now the public television network in the United States, PBS, has bought the rights and will show the film on its 349 affiliated stations. VOA producer Zulima Palacio talked to some of the people involved in the project.

Not even in her wildest dreams could Shakeba Adil imagine that one day she would be in the capital of the United States to present her work.

Afghanistan Unveiled is an unprecedented documentary about women in Afghanistan, from the fear and violence of the Taleban regime, to the harsh realities of rural life, to the newly-found freedom and opportunities of the filmmakers.

"I was Afghan woman but I didn't know anything about my country because I was only in Kabul and I didn't have the possibility to go around the country and see the people," said filmmaker Shakeba Adil.

Shakeba is 20 years old, Muslim, and working now on her third documentary about women in her country. She is one of 14 young women trained as video journalists with small digital cameras. They represent a new generation of women in Afghanistan.

"These women live in fear of being kidnapped. Many local warlords have never been disarmed and consider women their rightful possession," states a clip from the film.

The documentary was the final phase of an Afghan Women Oral History Project in a combined effort of the U.S. State Department, the Asia Foundation and the Afghan Media and Cultural Center, known as AINA. Susan Hovanec, from the Department of State, was the creator of the project.

"The film becomes more than just the story of the victims and eyewitnesses of the Taleban atrocities and abuse," she said. "It also becomes the journey of the journalists. It was an eye-opening experience for them – almost an epiphany. Yes, they were brazen, and brave, and courageous."

During the interviews, the filmmakers often identified with the suffering of others. Now eight of them continue working on new documentaries, and new dreams.

"I am not so professional right now but I want to continue my job and in the future I want to be a good director and filmmaker," Ms. Adil said.

While the film has gotten international recognition, it has not been shown in Afghanistan. It's too controversial. Shakema says that maybe in five or 10 years her country could be ready to see it.

"I don't want to show the film in Afghanistan because my life would be in danger because of what I said and because I interviewed the women," she said.

The experience of freedom, traveling and hearing first-hand about the drama of other women in their country, transformed the lives of the 14 young filmmakers. For Shakiba, life today offers much more than just an arranged marriage.

"I don't like to have someone on top of me to say what you should do and what you should not do," she said. "So, I want to be free for what I can do."

A new documentary called, If I Stand Up, is in its final stages. It documents women in politics in Afghanistan -- and Shakeba Adil was again one of the filmmakers.