Downloads: Press Release
Cultural taboos, Taliban threats can’t keep these students and their teachers away
A Co-production of ITVS
In Afghanistan today, there is no social issue more controversial than women’s rights. And nothing cuts to the heart of the matter more than the education of young girls because nothing so radically threatens to change a deeply patriarchal society than rising generations of educated women.
In 2009, when Razia Jan, a visionary and fearless educator, arrived in the war-blasted village of Deh’Subz to open the Zabuli Education Center, she placed herself at the center of her country’s turmoil. As recounted in the new documentary What Tomorrow Brings, she faced families and village elders hostile to female education, threats (and nearby examples) of Taliban violence against schools for girls and the haunting question of what would happen when U.S. forces withdrew. To sustain herself, Razia had her own resourcefulness, the passion of her teachers and, perhaps most surprisingly in a conservative rural setting, the free-spirited determination of the girls themselves to get an education.
Beth Murphy’s What Tomorrow Brings has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View) on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 at 10 p.m. (Check local listings.) POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series.
What is the value of education? The film is a powerful example of what happens when learning extends far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Here, girls have the space to dream of—and pursue—a life different from the one they were born into.
One of the most striking features is the daily joy, curiosity and intellectual engagement of the girls in school—and the defiant or impish ruses they sometimes use to get there. They persist even when faced with beatings, forced engagements, and threats by a resurgent Taliban.
Pashtana, an effervescent seventh -grader (arguably the class clown), is one of the film’s main subjects. She is forced into an engagement with her cousin and told that school is no place for girls. Pashtana’s mother has a forceful, heart-wrenching reaction: “I don’t want you to grow up blind like me, blind to everything going on in the world. As long as I’m alive I won’t let anyone stop you.”
Also featured is 23-year-old Rihala, the mayor’s daughter and the oldest student, who can remember life under the Taliban. Among the teachers, the youthful Nazima is more than an instructor; she is a confidante, friend and role model for the girls.
Razia, the school founder, is articulate and wise. She knows that bringing education to a place that has never allowed its daughters to go to school requires that age-old customs are both understood and challenged. Most critical are her efforts to change men’s attitudes toward women.
When What Tomorrow Brings opens, the Zabuli School is clearly, if always precariously, a success. The tension is palpable when Razia meets with village elders, including the mayor; it’s clear they’re not used to a woman being in charge. But it’s also clear the men are thinking – not only about the value of education, but also about the value of their daughter’s lives. With the security situation declining in Afghanistan, Razia implores the men—most of them fathers of students—to protect the school and keep it safe.
There are many studies that prove the ripple effect that happens when a girl is educated: She benefits, the family benefits, the community benefits. One elder voices this reality in his own family. He is illiterate, and it used to be that when he received a letter, he’d have to go door-to-door to find someone who could read it. Now his own daughter can read and even translate into English!
But at the school, as in Afghanistan itself, a sense of calm never lingers. Pashtana’s family is dealing with poverty in the traditional way, arranging to marry her off to man she has no desire to wed—thus ending her education. Rihala’s father (the mayor) takes a 16-year-old as his second wife. To keep his dowry costs down, he tries to force Rihala to marry his young bride’s 70-year-old father. The joy in school and the dreams of new futures for both girls begin to take on a darker cast.
“Nobody has the right to prevent girls from getting an education,” Razia tells her students. “If you were home you’d be washing clothes and sweeping. Your family would think of you like this flower. Theirs to protect or destroy. But this flower says, ‘Here I stand. Strong. Even if you try to destroy me I will bloom again and I will be beautiful.’”
What Tomorrow Brings is a bracing, touching film about girls coming of age and struggling to find their way amid the chaotic, violent present and uncertain future that is Afghanistan.
“I started filming in 2009, shortly after the Zabuli Girls’ School opened,” says filmmaker Beth Murphy. “My final shoot was in December 2015 for the school’s very first graduation. What I witnessed during the years of filming has been remarkable, and the transition in this community has been dramatic. It has transformed from a village that did not support girls’ education to one in which fathers and elders are now excited to send their daughters on to college.
“The Zabuli School started with 109 students. Today there are more than 600 girls going to school in grades kindergarten through 12. In the years I have been filming there, grades kindergarten through 5 have doubled in size. Slowly, parents and elders are chipping away at attitudes that keep girls out of the classroom across Afghanistan, and I want to share a story that shows what’s possible.
“Educating girls in Afghanistan means finding a precarious balance between hope and tradition, even at the best of times. These girls, their teachers and the school administrators face serious threats and formidable obstacles every day. I think they have earned the right to be heard. And I am hopeful that while the film brings attention to the precariousness of girls’ education in Afghanistan, it can also spotlight a community that is lighting the way for others.”
Learn more about the Zabuli Girls’ School and Razia Jan’s efforts here.
About the Filmmaker:
Beth Murphy, Director, Producer
Beth Murphy is founder of Principle Pictures, a company focused on creating documentary films, impact campaigns and news reports about pressing human rights issues globally; and director of GroundTruth Films at The GroundTruth Project, where she is training and mentoring the next generation of foreign correspondents and filmmakers. She has directed and produced nearly 20 films that have played at top-tier festivals and been broadcast globally, including the feature documentaries Beyond Belief and The List, which focused on the human consequences of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beth is a blogger for Huffington Post and has directed and produced for New York Times Op-Docs. Her photography found international acclaim with the series “To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.” She is a former fellow at Boston University’s Institute for Iraqi Studies, and has taught courses in covering international crises, media ethics and documentary filmmaking at Suffolk University and American University Paris. She earned her master’s degree in international relations and international communications at Boston University and studied filmmaking at George Washington University’s Documentary Center.
Beth’s adaptation of What Tomorrow Brings the multimedia project Foreverstan was recently recognized with an Edward R. Murrow Award. She is the author of Fighting for Our Future (McGraw Hill, 2002), a companion book to her film of the same title. The book, about women under 40 with breast cancer, was heralded by the Library Journal as doing the cancer community “a vital service.” She lives in Cape Cod, Mass., with her husband and daughter.
What Tomorrow Brings is a co-production of Principle Pictures and ITVS International in association with American Documentary | POV.
Director, Producer: Beth Murphy
Cinematographers: Kevin Belli, Elissa Bogos Mirzaei, Beth Murphy
Editors: Mary Lampson, Kevin Belli, Nathan Tisdale
Executive Producers: Charles Sennott, Debra McLeod
Co-Producer: Nathan Tisdale
Music: Oovra Music
Music Producer, Editor: Benjamin Krause
Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fiferx
Running Time: 52:00
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Vice President, Content Strategy: Eliza Licht
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
ITVS funds, presents and promotes award-winning documentaries on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy® Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. Mandated by Congress in 1988 and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ITVS has brought thousands independently produced programs to American audiences. For more, visit itvs.org.
Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 36 Emmy® Awards, 19 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, three IDA Awards for Best Curated Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. Learn more at www.pbs.org/pov/.
POV Community Engagement and Education (www.pbs.org/pov/engage/)
POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 650 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
POV Digital (www.pbs.org/pov/)
Since 1994, POV Digital has driven new storytelling initiatives and interactive production for POV. The department created PBS’s first program website and its first web-based documentary (POV’s Borders) and has won major awards, including a Webby Award (and six nominations) and an Online News Association Award. POV Digital continues to explore the future of independent nonfiction media through its digital productions and the POV Hackathon lab, where media makers and technologists collaborate to reinvent storytelling forms. @povdocs on Twitter.
American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding comes from Nancy Blachman and David desJardins, Bertha Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.