— Austin Chronicle
With This Breath I Fly presents an intimate portrait of two courageous Afghan women fighting for their freedom after being imprisoned for “moral crimes,” while exposing the complicity of the European Union in censoring their voices, and how the international press – and our documentary – forever alters their lives.
On a summer night in Kabul, Afghanistan, 19-year old Gulnaz was bound, gagged, and raped on the kitchen floor by her Uncle. Afraid of retribution for this shameful act, she kept silent. But when her belly began to swell with child, her secret was discovered, and she was thrown into prison for adultery. Disowned by her family who would kill her for the shame of her dishonor, she gave birth to her rapist’s daughter on the prison floor.
Gulnaz’ story ignited a media firestorm, and she became the face of female oppression within this conservative country. Represented by American lawyer Kim Motley, her case went all the way to President Karzai, who bowed to international pressure and granted her an unprecedented pardon.
But after she was freed from prison, she languished in a women’s shelter, unable to leave because none of her male relatives would claim her. She faced a terrible choice: to flee the country that imprisoned her and seek asylum abroad, or marry the man who raped her to regain her honor in society and give her daughter a better future.
Farida, forced into marriage to an older man she had never met, suffered horrible mental and physical abuse at his hands over the course of ten years of marriage.
His beatings caused her to suffer five miscarriages, and he would regularly sleep with young male prostitutes in the house they shared. She finally sought freedom by running away with Rahme Khoda, the man she loved.
But nowhere in Afghanistan is safe for a young couple suspected of sin, and soon they were found and thrown into prison, separated once again, this time by a prison wall.
Farida’s lawyer Shakib fights valiantly against a court system that assumes she is guilty. Her only chance for freedom is to convince her husband to grant her a divorce. But in a society where women are traded like cattle, this will come at a steep price. Will she and Rahme Khoda find a future together or will Farida’s story end like those of thousands of Afghan women forced to submit to the impossible “honor” of men?
Featuring exclusive access and never before seen footage from inside Afghanistan’s prisons, “With This Breath I Fly” takes you behind the headlines and the shocking statistics to investigate these two personal stories of hope and indomitable courage.
Clem is documentary filmmaker with over nine years experience in the developing world. A self-shooting director, she was previously based in Kenya and Afghanistan, and has made films for Channel Four, NBC, PBS, Current TV, the United Nations and the Aga Khan Foundation.
An Oscar-nominated filmmaker and founding director of the documentary production company Development Pictures, Sam French’s work has appeared on HBO, BBC, CNN, Channel 4 News, Al Jazeera, National Geographic and other broadcast outlets. Sam returned to his roots in narrative filmmaking to direct “Buzkashi Boys,” shot entirely on location in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he lived and worked for five years. “Buzkashi Boys” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013, and was co-produced by the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit NGO that Sam co-founded in 2010 to help train Afghan filmmakers and foster Afghanistan’s film industry.
Leslie is an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of Tiger Nest Films. Her first film, Out of the Ashes, the story of the Afghan Cricket team’s rise to success (BBC Storyville), won a 2011 Grierson Award. Her films have been broadcast on Netflix, BBC, ARTE, PBS, ITV, ABC, NBC, Channel 4 and CBC. In 2013 Leslie was nominated for an Academy Award for “Buzkashi Boys” which was co-produced by the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit NGO that Leslie co-founded in 2010 to help train Afghan filmmakers and foster Afghanistan’s film industry.
Jeff Zimbalist is a multi-Emmy and Peabody winning producer, writer and director, best known for FAVELA RISING (Tribeca Film Festival Winner, IDA Winner, Emmy Nominee, HBO & Thinkfilm 2005), THE TWO ESCOBARS (Cannes Film Festival, Peabody Winner, Emmy Nominee, WGA Nominee, ESPN 2010), MOMENTUM GENERATION (Emmy Winner, Tribeca Film Festival Winner, Los Angeles Film Awards Winner, HBO & Universal 2018), the Netflix series REMASTERED (Emmy winner, 6 Emmy nominations, Netflix 2019), and recently the Netflix series HEIST (Netflix 2021) and the Apple+ series THE LINE (Apple, 2021).
Baktash Ahadi was born in Kabul, lived as a refugee in Pakistan and grew up in the United States. Before filmmaking, Baktash was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique and served as a military translator in Afghanistan for three years. Baktash has produced and translated a number of award-winning documentaries, most notably Frame by Frame, which is full length documentary about free speech and photojournalism in Afghanistan.
Farzana Wahidy is an award-winning Afghan documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her photographs of women and girls in Afghanistan. She was the first female photographer in Afghanistan to work with international media agencies such as the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Farida and Gulnaz’ experience is not unusual. Over 50% of women imprisoned in Afghanistan are locked up for what society considers “moral crimes”. Running away from an abusive husband or being raped are not criminal acts under the Afghan constitution. Quite the opposite in fact -- abusing and raping women are crimes. Yet the overwhelmingly male dominated justice system punishes and imprisons women for the crimes that men committ against them.
“With This Breath I Fly” exposes this terrible double standard and explores how women are treated like second class citizens in Afghanistan. The imprisonment of Farida and Gulnaz may be shocking to a Western viewer, but the sad fact is that women in Afghanistan are already imprisoned by the society in which they live. Unable to speak out against the cultural norms that keep them subservient and bound to the whims of their male husbands and relatives, they have nowhere to turn and hardly anyone but a few brave lawyers to protect their rights.
In this polarizing time, it is more important than ever to tell the stories of those most marginalized by society. Only by showing that we are all human beings, with similar hopes and dreams, can we find a narrative that brings us closer together.
While we were filming in Afghanistan, Gulnaz became the international face of Afghan women. Her plight was featured in hundreds of publications, including the cover of the New York Times. This publicity led to an unprecedented pardon by President Karzai.
Telling stories matters. It can make an impact. Only by building awareness can we make a difference.
Today hundreds of thousands of women continue to be imprisoned for so called “moral crimes” in Afghanistan and across the world. Most can’t speak out, silenced by the male dominated society in which they live. They are sometimes killed by their own families to erase the shame of their dishonor.
Gulnaz and Farida displayed incredible courage by sharing their stories with us against overwhelming pressure to stay silent. We want to honor these brave women and amplify their voices so they can be heard.
We hope the film will rekindle the conversation and shine a light on this injustice so that we can help all women fight for a better future.
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With This Breath I Fly is a fiscally sponsored project of the International Documentary Association (IDA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are payable to the IDA and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.