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On September 10, 2001, Patti Quigley and Sue Retik were ordinary happily married mothers living in the affluent Boston suburbs, each with two kids and another on the way. The next morning, when each woman said goodbye to her husband as he headed to board a plane to New York, she couldn't imagine she'd never see him again. Even more unimaginable was the chain of events this film recounts. How, burdened by a grief that's almost impossible for others to gauge, they would eventually meet. How, slowly, a friendship would form, born at first out of a shared pain. And finally, how a remarkable and generous idea was born, of traveling all the way to Afghanistan to the very training ground of the killers who had taken the lives of their beloved husbands. Why? Because they'd begun to make a connection, perhaps at first only an intellectual one: they were widows; but how many more women had been widowed in that far off land? Then came the realization that those tens of thousands of women who have suffered through decades of invasion, civil war, and a dulling poverty that must seem eternal-might need an empowering hand. When, after delays, obstructions and their own hesitation, they finally arrived together in Kabul, the women they met were immediately recognizable as dignified and powerful, despite their humble situation and their social restrictions. And realizing how comparatively bountiful their own lives back home were, despite their enormous loss-the Americans understood that peace can indeed be forged one person at a time. Copresented with New York Women in Film and Television.
Director's Statement Collapse
In July 2000 I was teaching a journalism class at American University Paris and brought my students to Amnesty International for a conversation about genocide. As we were wrapping up, the Amnesty representative ushered us into a room and over to a large cardboard box with a bright blue fabric peeking out. "Have you ever worn a burqa before?" she asked. As I pulled the tent-like garment over my head and imagined being forced to wear it, I thought about what it would be like to be invisible to the world. That's when I knew I wanted to produce a film about Afghanistan and help Afghan women to become visible again. The challenge was finding a way for the film to resonate with an American audience.
A year later, after the attacks of September 11th, the ability to draw the connection between Afghanistan and us seemed obvious. Three months later, I traveled to Afghanistan to film the growing humanitarian crisis and the aid workers who were struggling to respond to it. I was looking forward to seeing women shedding their burqas, liberated from the medieval laws of the Taliban. But when I arrived, all the women I encountered were still covered head-to-toe, allowed only a small mesh patch for their window to the world. When the documentary I was working on failed to sell, I vowed to return to this place that captured a piece of me with its beauty, isolation and sorrow.
What I could never have imagined then is that as I was filming in Afghanistan, there were two women living in my own backyard who were opening their eyes to the world in new and profound ways after losing their husbands on September 11th. Four years later I would return to Afghanistan with Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, whose loss gave them permission to shut out the world, but whose compassion forced them to have a leadership role in it.
It was important to me to tell their story because as the world has become increasingly divided by politics, ethnicity and religion, Susan and Patti affirm a common humanity that we all share. From the beginning, they recognize their Afghan counterparts as individuals-women they identify with and feel a connection to-rather than a monolithic, nameless, faceless group, as often happens during the world's tragedies.
I was struck by Susan and Patti's ability to recognize Afghanistan for all of its complexities. True, it is the country in which the terrorists trained to kill their husbands, but it is also a place that had been used as a pawn during the Cold War, only to then be abandoned by the international community - sparking a civil war that would last another decade. The effects were especially cruel for women. Banished from public life by the Taliban, they've suffered staggering declines in health. (Afghanistan is still one of the only countries in the world where women have a shorter life expectancy than men.) And when we arrived in Kabul in May 2006, the burqa still defined public life for most women.
Susan and Patti's mission is simple: to make life better for these women. And so is their message: hatred is the root of terrorism. They aren't naïve enough-nor do they have enough hubris-to think they can stop terrorism in its tracks. But they do have enough optimism-and enough faith in humanity-to believe that the War on Terror cannot be fought with bombs and bullets alone.
Film Information Collapse
[BEYON] | 2007 | 97 | Documentary Feature
Directed by: Beth Murphy
Foreign Title: (Beyond Belief)
Language: English, Dari
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About the Director(s)Collapse
BETH MURPHY has been directing, producing, and reporting for documentaries, television and radio news for 18 years. As the founder of Principle Pictures, Beth has contributed programming to The History Channel, Discovery Channel, Lifetime Television, PBS and numerous international media outlets. She has won two Gracie Allen Awards from American Women in Radio and Television. Murphy is also an author (Fighting For Our Future) and university professor at Suffolk University and American University Paris. Prior to her film work, Murphy was as a television and radio news reporter and anchor. Murphy earned a B.A. in History from the University of Connecticut, an M.A. in International Relations and International Communications from Boston University, and also studied documentary filmmaking at the George Washington University Documentary Center. Murphy currently serves on the board of the International Institute of Boston, an organization that helps immigrants and refugees.