The story behind Kabul Girls: interview with filmmaker Masooma Ibrahimi

In 2020, a few months before the Taliban took power, independent filmmakers Masooma Ibrahimi and Masood Eslami shot Kabul Girls. This story of women trying to live their lives freely shows a side of Afghanistan rarely seen on the screen.

The cast and crew of Kabul Girls. PHOTO: Courtesy Masooma Ibrahimi
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Seattle Radical Women showed the feature-length film Kabul Girls at a benefit event to raise funds for the survivors of recent earthquakes in the Herat region of Afghanistan. Several days later, the authors sat down with Hazara filmmaker Masooma Ibrahimi to discuss her journey into movies.

Margaret Viggiani: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Masooma Ibrahimi: My family lived in Iran when I was young. I was a child laborer. We were poor, we all worked. We had to wake up early at 5 or 6 o’clock and work until 8 at night, six days a week. We made clay bricks for building.

When I was young, Rakhshān Bani-Etemad, a famous woman director in Iran, came to our town to shoot Blue Scarf/Rosari Abi feature film. The other children wanted to be in the film, but I found a quiet corner and watched the crew work. It was very interesting. It was the start of thinking about filmmaking. Before, I didn’t have any hope. Seeing a woman filmmaker made me hope that it could be me one day. The next day I started writing my ideas down.

Gina Petry: How did you make your dream happen?

Ibrahimi: My mother insisted we get an education. In Iran education was very difficult for Afghan women. My mother insisted our father pay for my education. And when I was finished with high school my mother told my father we have to go to Afghanistan because in Iran my daughter cannot go to the university.

So we moved back. During the day I worked and I studied at night. When I came back home, it was dark. The neighbors’ said that I was very bad because I leave in the early morning and come home late. My mother ignored them. And I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Before Kabul Girls, I made a documentary named Mother of These Lands. It was about the impact of education on the life of Afghan women in Herat, Kabul, and Balkh provinces in Afghanistan. I also made two short films and have written for TV and other projects.

Petry: Why did you and your husband and partner Masood Eslami decide to film Kabul Girls?

Ibrahimi: Before the Taliban came back into power, the situation of women had changed, especially in certain areas of Kabul. There the girls were so stylish, so nice. They were free. They just sit in the cafe and they speak freely, sometimes they smoke, sometimes they drink.

It was funny to me because Afghanistan is a very traditional country. So I thought I needed to make a film about these women, who don’t have scarves.

Most Afghan films just show women under the burka, in very bad situations, a very dark side of Afghanistan. But I tried to make a film that showed open-minded women and the challenges they face.

In Kabul Girls, each woman has her own challenges and barriers. These stories are based on people I knew, including the woman who is forced to flee because her male relatives want to kill her for shaming the family.

Viggiani: How did you get the film made for only $50,000?

Ibrahimi: For many years, my husband and I tried to find a producer to invest in our film. But we couldn’t. One day I was sitting at home and told Masood, let’s make a film, okay? With our own budget. We have some money saved and we can ask our families to assist.

So we talked with all of the Afghan crew and I begged them, please help us make this film. We have very little money. I can give you $100, $200 or $300 maximum.

This was for 40 days, shooting from early morning into the middle of the night. And they accepted. Then we called two friends in Iran, a sound man and a cameraman. They accepted our invitation just by providing the plane tickets.

We did our best. It was very difficult. I was producer. I was a script writer and co-director. I had a breastfeeding child. I accepted many challenges and difficulties during those days. I wish I had more time for the script. But it was a good example to show what Masood and I can do. We tried, but did not find a distributor.

Petry: What is the next project for you?

Ibrahimi: I am working on a story about a trans Afghan girl who tries to show her real self. Her character would just like to shout out that I am not a woman. I am a man. But it is very difficult as a Muslim, a woman, Afghan woman, to talk about these issues.

I want to make this film because transgender people are not allowed at all in Afghanistan, and if they talk about this issue, they will be killed. So, I would like to talk about this because we have many people that are transgender or are LGBT. They are human. It is their right to live, the same as others.

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