Earlier this week, members of the San Francisco Commonwealth Club gathered for the screening of Sedika Mojadidi's MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN
, co-produced by ITVS and presented by the Americans for UNFPA
The subject matter of the film is harsh, real and gritty. Afghanistan has the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world. But somehow the film's intentions resonated through to the entire audience. Sedika Mojadidi captures the hardships of young Afghan women giving birth at the Laura Bush Maternity Ward in Kabul, a hospital inadequate and unsuitable for a safe delivery. One woman is only 13 years old, and travels three days to the hospital, only to give birth to a stillborn, but awaits the birth of the "healthy" twin. Another is suffering from a devastating and humiliating obstetric fistula––an open wound in the birth canal caused by intense, unattended labor, leaving her incontinent for more than eight months. Their sisters, mothers, brothers and husbands are by their side, and yet, there seems to be no help. And this frustrates Dr. Qudrat Mojadidi. Originally from Afghanistan, Dr. Mojadidi is Sedika's father. The film not only investigates the health care system in Afghanistan, but shows the dynamics of one Afghan American family.
"I never intended to make a documentary with me in it, let alone a documentary about my father," Sedika said during the Q&A. "The whole time my parents thought I was making a home movie. It was only after I was done making it, when they said, 'Oh, you were serious!'"
The subject of maternal mortality rate is overwhelming for many people. However, Sedika manages to tastefully include personal anecdotes, easing the tension of the subject matter. The simple act of packing a suitcase for their second trip to Afghanistan, to a different hospital, became a subtle "father knows best" episode. After weighing it in at 67 pounds before departure, Sedika is seen later in Afghanistan huffing, "This bag is out of control."
One audience member described Dr. Mojadidi as "charismatic." His energy is bright, his tone is cheerful, and he definitely has American spunk. He seems to be the beacon of hope for these women, and a source of light for the doctors and nurses at the hospitals.
One woman offered the advice to send the film to the State Department in hopes of it landing in the hands of Secretary Clinton. Another stated that there should be midwife training in the rural villages, so the pregnant women receive adequate care during their initial stages of labor, if not prenatal care throughout their pregnancy. UNFPA is bringing safe motherhood programs including access to contraception, skilled birth attendants (midwives) and emergency obstretric care to women and supports innovative projects, like mobile clinics to reach women in rural communities.
MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN does not highlight religion or politics, but rather it implies that there are problems. It is about the women and their families who live in the turbulent, dusty and remote terrain of rural Afghanistan. It shows how the expertise from doctors and nurses from the United States is shared with Afghan medical staff, but at the same time witness how money from the United States is being used to "improve" the hospital. What MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN does emphasize is that the health care in Afghanistan is just not working.
During the closing remarks of the screening one woman asked, "How do we get involved?" In short, there are many organizations that support the health and well being of women and their children––born and unborn. Americans for UNFPA, the non-profit which supports the United Nations Population Fund on the behalf of the United States, is devoted in supporting the women who we met in the film, and millions of other women in over 150 countries worldwide. Building on momentum, knowledge and heartfelt compassion, organizations such as the UNFPA are making strides for better health care and family planning for the people who need it most.
And filmmakers, such as Sedika Mojadidi, are creating films that move people, driving them to want to help. MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN is a film that certainly gets people up from their seat, springing into action.
Staff member at Americans for UNFPA