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Hot Docs 2024: Qs à la mode with… Aeyliya Husain & Amie Williams (An Unfinished Journey)

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Co-directors Aeyliya Husain and Amie Williams chronicle the experiences of four Afghan women, who flee their home country to start new lives in Canada, in An Unfinished Journey. We posed our Qs à la mode to Aeyliya and Amie, and here’s what they shared!

If I had to describe our film using only three adjectives, they would be:
Aeyliya: Strength, resilience, hope.

Amie: Quiet, fierce, undying.

We decided to make this film because:
Aeyliya: My work as a filmmaker focuses on women, conflict, and representation; examined through a distinctly feminine lens. It was extremely important to tell this story and the impact of geopolitics on the lives of Afghan women and girls. This story is an alarm bell about the erosion of human rights which is slowly happening around the world.

Amie: I had been working with Afghan and other refugee women in Greece for over four years. I knew what happened with the U.S. withdrawing and the Taliban taking over was going to be a disaster for women and the world. I had to meet these brave women and find out from them what to do, how to proceed, what next? And what happened next was nothing any of us could have predicted. I make films for the impact, and when I met these women, their stories were all about this, the impact/contribution they had made to their country and for women and girls, even globally. I really wanted the world to listen to them, and how important it was to have these women at the forefront of finding a solution.

The thing that surprised me most about our film’s subject/topic was:
Aeyliya: The resilience of all the protagonists, and their determination to continue to fight for the rights of the women in Afghanistan. Even though they were new immigrants and had to start their lives all over again, they continued to raise their voices, rallied, formed coalitions, lobbied government officials, and continue to speak out about the injustices in their country.

Amie: How little the world seemed to care — especially feminist groups — about what is shaping up to be one of the greatest women’s rights violations of our time. The Ukraine war broke out while we were filming and it’s as if the eyes of the world just closed to the Afghan crisis, save for a handful of Afghan activists, former leaders, and their supporters. It was like a media desert, and we were navigating through it.

The toughest part of the shoot was:
Aeyliya: When the protagonists recalled the family and people they left behind. Both Zefnoon and Nilofar were particularly upset about their family situations, their pain was palpable.

Amie: Watching the obvious suffering of the women being torn from their jobs, their beloved family members, and country, and also not being able to help them get their remaining family members out of Afghanistan. This, combined with the challenges of sharing the direction. Co-directing is never easy and I found it very challenging. We each focused on two characters so in the edit room putting the stories together was not always seamless. You asked about the shoot, but I think the editing process was especially difficult for me.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in our film is:
Aeyliya: The sequence when Nilofar moves into her first apartment with her family. You feel the excitement both in her and her husband, but more so with her children, as they play and explore their new apartment and neighbourhood. However, this mood of hope and happiness is pierced with sadness, as Nilofar unpacks her suitcase and the memories of home come flooding back. Unable to control her emotions, she breaks down. For me this scene is about the bittersweetness of migration, and in the case of our protagonists, it’s forced migration.

Amie: I don’t have a favourite, but the first day I met [our protagonists] in Greece and interviewed them without the camera is perhaps the most memorable.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making equipment was/is:
Aeyliya: The prime lenses. They have a more cinematic look and I find the image to be aesthetically more pleasing.

Amie: My meditation practice.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is:
Aeyliya: If you can, take the time to find the strong narrative thread; story must always be first. While filming, don’t get distracted by side stories and filming scenes that don’t move the narrative, remain focused.

Amie: Working collaboratively with your subjects, even giving them credit for your work together is important. It is a long process, and you are asking your subjects to give something deep of themselves, not just their time. It is a delicate power balance always, remember you are there because of them, so always honoring this.

Want to check out their film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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