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Q: What was your inspiration for Enemies of Happiness?
A: We hear a lot about war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, a lot of the stories are about military strategy and high scale politics. We seldom hear about everyday people and their everyday lives. Seldom can we relate to what we hear. I wanted to make a film that left the audience with a feeling of how it is to live in Afghanistan, how it is to walk down the streets. A film with less distance.
Q: The Afghani parliament has tried to silence Malalai Joya and she has faced several assassination attempts. Was your life also in danger? If so, how did that change your experience as a filmmaker?
A: My life was not directly in danger. We didn’t experience any direct threats, but being around Malalai is dangerous. Neither the photographer British Zillah Bowes, nor I had any experience in working in war zones. We tried to be careful, we trusted on our local staff, and we were inside Malalai’s security system of bodyguards. I didn’t like to use as much energy, as we did on security; it took away focus from filmmaking. At a point, we decided not to talk any more about security, and let the film be the main topic. From there on it was easier. Fear is something that grows if you let it.
Q: Were limitations put on you by local authorities in Afghanistan?
A: No, everything was possible. We went to a government office and got our permission to film, after that there were no more questions. Police and election authorities were very cooperative.
Q: Would you consider this film a departure from your earlier films, which cover Danish culture? Are there any parallels?
A: It is my first international film, but the style is similar to my domestic productions. I was educated at The National Danish Film School, in a tradition that looks up on documentary film as an art form. I feel more close to fiction than to journalism, and I believe that a documentary film can be as entertaining and beautiful as a fiction film. In that way all of my films try to move and entertain, they are all cinema verité style. This one has a stronger plot and a harder time frame. I am happy about that and it was necessary as we had only four weeks of shooting in Afghanistan.
Q: You’ve written about how the world creates distance between “us” and “them.” Explain what you mean by that.
A: We feel secure by telling stories about other people, which separates them from us. Now the Muslims are the main group we as westerners try to separate ourselves from—and they from us. It is clear that it creates both for them and us the feeling of being a unit, and the leaders benefit from the clarity of having an evil enemy. But it is all storytelling, if you focus on the distances they will be enormous, if you focus on the opposite, the mutual understanding will be overwhelming. If we are fooled to believe that other people are very different from us, we will never be able to change anything for the better. I hope more people will fool themselves to think they are not so different from anyone else, and I would love to tell stories that help us do that.
Q: Why did you become a documentary filmmaker? What filmmakers have inspired you most?
A: I like reality, and the unforeseen. I like to work with real people and real issues. It is a challenge to make it look good, to make it have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. To make sense in reality. I like documentary filmmakers like Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles brothers, Werner Herzog, Michael Glawogger, Kim Longinotto, Jørgen Leth, and Anne Wivel. And of course all the beautiful fiction …
Q: Do you have advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers?
A: Do the best you can, that is good enough.
Q: Have you faced any particular obstacles being a woman filmmaker or not?
A: No. Actually being a woman in a war zone without any experience is probably easier than being a man. It is easier to ask for help. And we couldn’t have filmed Malalai if we were men, it would have created too many rumors if she had western men running in and out of her private home.