Living in Afghanistan, we face the daily reality of the ongoing war. Under a bridge in Kabul, we found a very different struggle, one that is perhaps far more dangerous. Thousands of people huddled by the putrid Kabul River, injecting and smoking heroin.
The most dangerous subject to investigate in Afghanistan is the drug trade. We knew making a documentary that had anything to do with the drug trade would be inherently risky, not only for us, but for anyone else involved in our film. Yet it wasn’t the drug war that drew us in, but rather an Afghan woman, her colorful headscarf disappearing as she slipped under the dark recesses of the bridge.
Laila Haidari, “the mother of the addicts,” captivated us from the moment we met her in 2012. She challenges all stereotypes of an Afghan woman and is fascinatingly complex. Laila founded her own pioneering addiction treatment centers, using the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) approach. She now operates two shelters, one for men and another for women, which recognize the dignity of individuals struggling with addiction in Afghanistan. In the face of opposition from the Afghan government and without any funding, Laila finances her shelters through her own restaurant, the only one of its kind in the country where recovered addicts are employed as waiters. She is both a mother and a warrior, incredibly brave and yet vulnerable.
We began with the plan of making a short film about Laila for Al Jazeera English’s Witness series. As we became more entrenched in the world under the bridge, we knew that a feature film would better represent this story of human struggle, tragedy and resilience. This is our time directing a feature-length documentary, but we are working with a very experienced team. We want to bring Laila at the Bridge to theaters and provide an alternate lens into Afghanistan, one that shows a world of both despair and the hope that is so often left out of the news.
When we began work on this film in 2012, there were one million drug addicts in Afghanistan. As of May 2015, that figure has reached three million. Afghanistan is now not only the world’s biggest supplier of opium, but the most addicted country on earth. In the nearly three straight years that we have been filming, we also followed the journeys of several of the addicted men and women for whom Laila is fighting so hard to give a new lease on life. Though they fall many times, there is always the hope of reaching for something better. Their stories show the resiliency of the human spirit.
This is a deeply intimate, observational film about a woman on a mission who will not give up, despite the odds being stacked against her. Like Laila, we are committed to helping the individuals struggling with addiction in Afghanistan by bringing their experiences to the world. We have completed filming and need your help to complete editing the film. Please help us bring Laila at the Bridge, and a different side of Afghanistan, to the world.