The Boxing Girls of Kabul

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on March 06, 2013

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Dear Ariel Nasr

Dear Ariel,

There's not really a single job title to greet you with. Although you had, I am sure, great help from talented people, this is a compelling and passionate work that was obviously made with a singular vision. And the results are wonderful. This is a tight, focused, and surprising little documentary that moved me in ways I was wholly unprepared for.

It begins with the 1999 execution by the Taliban of a woman in the Olympic stadium where the girls now practice. From there, it follows the budding boxing careers of three young girls, training under a one-time Olympic athlete that lost his chance to compete in 1984 in Los Angeles because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They face fearsome international competition abroad, and celebrity, criticism and even outright threats at home.

The boxing girls themselves are brave, and the movie is clear about how unique they are in their society. Family support and hope for a better future is a key enabler - with two of the girls' mother adamant that Afghanistan "can't go backwards." The coach is a warm and dedicated man, who is proud and supportive of his boxers, and like them consciously risks death to do so. As a viewer, you get the sense that some of the chaos in Afghanistan is incomprehensible even to its residents. Their only possible response to the larger dangers is a wary resignation that other, more fortunate kids reserve for the weather.

The material demands of making a movie like this definitely show in the cinematography. There probably wasn't much opportunity for quality cameras and good lighting, especially in something so fast-paced as boxing. After the first dozen minutes of the film, I had started to give up on cinematography, when I was struck by crystal-clear shots of the city, with beautiful light cascading through the clouds. It does a great job of establishing the place, and these lovely shots serve as a palate cleanser for the majority of the relatively jumpy and pixely camera work. You are a talented cinematographer working in some rough circumstances.

The structure of the film, even though it only runs an hour, is superb. It first spirals in an ever-widening circle, from the boxing studio to the stadium, to the marketplace, to the girls' homes to the city of Kabul, to the situation in Afghanistan to the international competitions. When they visit other countries for the first time, like Vietnam and Kazakhstan, we know the strangeness of the places because we see through the girls' eyes. From there, the movie spirals back in, to the resulting personal changes and possible future of these girls.

There are no big plays or solutions, but again, there don't need to be. The fact that these precious people exist is astonishing in itself, and the fact that you captured them is a gift.

Gratefully yours,


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