On July 7, “A Letter to the President” by renowned Afghan filmmaker Roya Sadat won Best Screenplay at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Film Festival in Sri Lanka. Afghanistan’s Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Mohammad Ashraf Haidari, received the award on Sadat’s behalf.
The festival featured 34 films from the eight SAARC countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. “A Letter to the President” was one of four films from Afghanistan.
“A Letter to the President” chronicles the life of Soraya, a powerful police chief in Kabul. The film sheds light on the abuse Soraya suffers by her abusive husband whom she eventually kills. When she is sentenced to capital punishment, Soraya writes to the President of Afghanistan in an attempt to save her own life.
Sadat directed the film over a period of two years and reported that filming was extremely difficult at times due to threats of violence she received. While filming “A Letter to the President,” she was chased at gunpoint by individuals who were angry that her film featured a woman who did not cover her head. Consequently, the US Department of State honored her as a recipient of the International Women of Courage Award. The State Department highlighted Sadat’s activism, mentioning that she founded the Afghanistan International Women’s Film Festival to encourage more women to enter the filmmaking industry.
Sadat’s film also recently won the One Future Prize at the Munich Film Festival. The prize is presented to a director whose film demonstrates “that our world has one common future.” The group presenting Sadat’s award, speaking of the film’s main character, stated that “her integrity and her courage to resist are an example to us all. All this is told by the equally brave young Afghan director Roya Sadat, the first female practitioner of her craft in the post-Taliban era.”
Other Afghan activists have also used art to create social change and engage international audiences. ArtLords, a group of Afghan artists, recently painted a mural in London outside of the Defend Media Freedom Global Conference where Afghan officials were in attendance. Omaid Sharifi, the chairman of ArtLords, told TOLO News that he wanted the mural “to reflect the role of freedom of the press in Afghanistan.” Sharifi also took to Twitter, stating that “this is our statement for protection and support of journalists and free press all over the world.”
Media Resources: Tolo News 3/23/18, Tolo News 7/8/19, Tolo News 7/9/19, Tolo News 7/11/19