By Eva Mulvad
To complete “Enemies of Happiness”* was no easy task. We shot the film in war-torn southwestern Afghanistan. Farah Province is not a place many foreigners go to and we had difficulties getting out there. You don’t just drive through the area, where private militias rule, and where villages are still controlled by the Taliban or their supporters. And we could not get on a plane until we found a military cargo plane, which would take us out to the desert town.
We landed in a hot and dusty Farah in the middle of August 2005 — four weeks before the Afghan election — knowing only that we should follow a young and very brave woman during her election campaign. Malalai Joya’s people greeted us with flowers. They took us through the desert to the office where Joya worked, a place that would become one of the main locations of the film.
The office is situated inside a controlled area. Security blocks both ends of the street, to prevent attacks on Joya. She didn’t leave the secure compound often, and that made it easier for us to film, because we would be inside Joya’s security system most of the time.
We were a team of two — myself and the cinematographer. Neither British cinematographer Zillah Bowes nor I had any experience working in war zones. We tried to be careful. We trusted our local staff and Joya’s security system of bodyguards, and dressed in burkas and local clothes to keep a low profile. I didn’t like the fact that we had to spend so much energy on security; it took away from the focus on filmmaking. At some point, we decided not to talk about security any more, and let the film be the main topic. From then on, it was easier. Fear is something that grows if you let it.
Eva Mulvad on set This film was made to tell another story from one of the world’s most talked-about regions: Afghanistan. The stories we hear are always full of bombs, torture and terrorists. Maybe it is the story our society wants to hear. But a lot of other things happen inside these war zones.
The world is not about villains who lurk outside waiting for us. The world is more than that – full of everyday people who fight everyday battles for their and others’ right to life, dream and happiness. Muslims are not a monolithic villainous entity. We can understand each other. There are many who profit from making us think that we cannot. But we cannot believe them. They create anxiety about the world, an anxiety that leads to distance.
This film is about something else, about a Muslim hero, about an extraordinary woman, about personal courage and the will to change the world.
* A WOMAN AMONG WARLORDS is adapted from the documentary film ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS, winner of the Sundance World Cinema Jury Prize 2007, and the IDFA Silver Wolf Prize 2006.