Three Movies: America, India, Afghanistan

On March 12 I saw so many movies about women, I was beside myself with happiness. It was the Voices Film Festival at the Denver Film Center on Colfax. Although the Denver Film Society has been doing Women + Film at the festival for years, it was the first time Voices has had its own festival.

I missed Soul Surfer, about the female surfer whose arm was bitten off by a shark. Take that, James Franco!

My favorite film was Waking Lions, directed by Allison Otto, from which I learned that a Colorado woman, Shannon Galpin, had sold her house to found Mountain2Mountain, which “invests in the world’s most underutilitzed resource: women and girls on the fringe.” The movie portrayed her adventures in Afghanistan.

Galpin has visited women in Afghan prisons (some of whom are victims of rape but were charged with adultery), supported a school for the deaf in Kabul, trained women in midwifery in rural areas (where male doctors are not allowed to see women under any circumstances), ridden her bike in rural areas (many people in Afghanistan consider it obscene for girls and women to ride bikes) because she hopes midwives might be able to travel that way, and has supported education and training in critical thinking for women and girls.

For a long time I had wanted to go to Afghanistan but was under the mistaken impression that you couldn’t just go, that you had to get permission from the military or something. Galpin said no, that there were even people who went as tourists to Afghanistan. That gives me hope that someday I’ll be able to go. I spent so many years of my life following what the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan, when hardly anyone in the United States had heard of the Taliban, that I would like to go there now that it’s safer and see what’s happening.

Mountain2Mountain also contributes to Beyond the 11th’s programs for widows. Beyond the 11th was founded by 2 American women widowed by September 11 who decided to help women in Afghanistan widowed by that country’s 30 years of war. Beyond Belief, the film by Beth Murphy telling the story of their organization, focused much more on the lives of the two American founders but also included emotional footage of their trip to Afghanistan and their relationship with an Italian aid worker who was kidnapped.

The film I was looking forward to most, Pink Saris, was the most disappointing. It may have had something to do with the structure of the film, which was essentially a collection of vignettes. The director, Kim Longinotto, has been directing documentaries since 1982, and that may be her style.

But I think the real problem for me was my disillionment with the founder of the Gulabi Gang, Sampat Pal Devi, whom I had read about and believed to be a defender of women’s rights in rural India. But in this movie, most of her work involved disputes with families abusing their daughters-in-law, and her solution most often was to yell at the family and then send the woman back.

It seems to me she could have spent that energy forming a women’s cooperative and could have used donations to buy a piece of land where these women could live and farm. Perhaps that is completely unrealistic.

There was nothing in the movie about the Gulabi Gang, that is, the group of women who wear the pink saris. They were shown from time to time, but their purpose was not explained.

I hope that you will check out these movies, especially Waking Lions, and attend the gala put on by Mountain2Mountain on April 28 at the Denver Museum of Art. “Streets of Afghanistan: A Cultural Exhibition,” will be showing.