Enemies of Happiness, 2007

One of the clear highlights at this year’s festival is the appearance of human rights activist and outspoken political figure, Malalai Joya at the Q&A for Enemies of Happiness, who, until recently, served as one of the few truly democratic voices in an Afghani parliament that is riddled with rampant corruption, collusion, and inaction, where elections were often won through intimidation and bribery by powerful warlords who operated with relative impunity under Hamid Karzai’s presidency (and who, in turn, cannot afford to alienate the warlords for fear of destabilizing the country’s tenuous unity). The recipient of this year’s HRWIFF Nestor Almendros Prize (as well as the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize for Documentary at Sundance Film Festival), Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem’s Enemies of Happiness is not only a remarkable portrait of Malalai Joya, but also a bracing and illuminating glimpse into the fragile democracy and uncertain peace that now shape everyday life in Afghanistan. Thrust into the political spotlight in 2003 when stood at the microphone at the Loya Jirga she publicly criticized the inclusion of powerful warlords in the formation of the new government (the very warlords whose strident support of the Taliban regime enabled the decimation of the country) and their subsequent efforts to enact a bill that would provide blanket amnesty for Taliban-era crimes (a gesture that, as Joya subsequently contextualizes, is tantamount to criminals pardoning themselves for their willfully committed atrocities), the genial and articulate Joya has become an unlikely controversial figure in Afghani politics, drawing repeated assassination attempts and barbaric threats of violence (including public officials who have publicly called for her rape and killing during parliamentary assemblies). Chronicling Joya’s candidacy in the immediate days before the country’s first parliamentary elections in 2005, her daily routine seems less that of a well-honed politician looking to extend her popular reach in her native town of Farah, than a social worker, diplomat, negotiator, and advocate seeking to find seemingly impossible resolutions to the everyday grievances and entrenched cultural injustices that continue to plague Afghanistan’s deeply patriarchal and class entrenched society. Despite being compelled to wear a burqa while in transit in order to avoid chance detection by political enemies and scuttling from house to house among supporters each evening to thwart predictable patterns, Joya continues to reach out to the people: a young girl who is being forced into marriage by a local warlord, despite her family’s refusal, a woman who is seeking a way out of an abusive marriage, but fears losing custody of her children, a sprightly, elderly woman who pays a visit to express her support for Joya’s candidacy, fondly recalling (and irrepressibly demonstrating) her acts of insurgency for the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion. Concluding with Joya’s historic victory at the polls to become one of the few women who were elected to the first Afghani parliament, what emerges from Mulvad and Al-Erhayem’s incisive gaze is a people devastated by a legacy of repressive history, haunted by its own unreconciled demons, torn apart by petty self-interest, and desperate to find a semblance of hope amid the blinding dust of a beloved country struggling to emerge from the rubble.

© Acquarello 2007. All rights reserved.