“LAILA AT THE BRIDGE is a film about an Afghan woman who tries to offer second chances to the outcast heroin addicts living under an infamous bridge in Kabul. Laila’s own brother was a heroin addict for over 25 years, inspiring her to undertake this Sisyphean task to provide free treatment to thousands of men and women addicted to heroin in Afghanistan. She faces threats to her life, opposition from the government and severe financial setbacks.” Director Elizabeth Mirzaei on LAILA AT THE BRIDGE which screens at #HotDocs25.
Tell me more about your process of getting this documentary project together!
My co-director/husband Gulistan and I were living in Afghanistan when we learned about Laila and her work. We instantly felt drawn to her story, which we initially envisioned as a short. As we began filming, we realized we should make a feature, but we knew we couldn’t wait around for funding. We took every job we could in order to self-fund three years of filming in Kabul. I got pregnant and we moved to the United States, taking a bit of time off to have a baby. We then met our talented producer Ina Fichman, and completed the film in late 2017!
How long was your process from beginning to end and did you have any challenges during the filming process?
It took over five years to complete the film. Gulistan and I faced many challenges during the production/filming stage, including threats to our safety, and we’re grateful that we decided to keep going. We edited in 20 weeks.
A very technical question, but what kind of cameras and editing equipment did you use to capture this documentary?
I initially began filming in 2012 with a Canon 5D Mark II, and then switched to a Canon C100. I also filmed a little with a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera.
What excites you the most about presenting this to HotDocs audiences?
I am delighted to be having the North American premiere at Hot Docs. I have never been, but have only ever heard good things about the festival. There’s also a large Afghan community in Toronto that I hope this film will reach.
After the movie shows at HotDocs, where is the movie going next? Are there any other festivals coming up?
We’re screening at Bel Docs in May and then have other festivals coming up. Stay tuned for more details!
How do you feel with the theatrical experience versus streaming debate for documentaries? Are you okay with the movie going to streaming/digital only, or do you strive for the theatrical experience?
I wanted LAILA AT THE BRIDGE to have a theatrical run in festivals first. Besides the experience of seeing a film on the big screen, theatrical screenings also bring together communities and groups of people and connect them around a film or an issue.
What is the one piece of advice you would say to anyone looking into making a documentary short or feature for the first time?
Find a story you really love, because you’re entering into a sort of marriage with it. Making a film takes a ton of time and energy, and it’s hard to muster that effort if you don’t feel a strong attachment to your story. And be persistent. You may want to throw in the towel numerous times, but try to hold onto your initial hope and vision for the film to carry you through.
And finally, what is your all time favorite documentary feature film?
That’s an impossible question! I can’t name just one all-time favorite, but a recent film I loved is PLANET OF SNAIL!
For more information on LAILA AT THE BRIDGE visit www.lailaatthebridgefilm.com!
More information on this film and screenings can be found at www.hotdocs.ca!