Refugees and the Crisis in Afghanistan through film

09 Sep 2021

8 mins
The Breadwinner
The Breadwinner

Over the last several weeks, we have all watched in horror at the events unfolding in Afghanistan. The political situation there quickly deteriorated following the withdrawal of United States forces, which allowed the oppressive Taliban regime to regain control of the country for the first time since 2001.

This is now a large-scale humanitarian crisis, with huge numbers of refugees attempting to find safe passage out of the country and settle elsewhere, and years of progression for women's rights at risk of being undone.

Broaching such a complex issue with young people may be difficult but it is also crucial - particularly as any young people that seek refuge in the UK may end up in the school system. Here at Into Film, we believe that this is exactly the sort of complex topic that is perfect to approach using the medium of film. There are a number of titles that allow young people of all ages to gain a broad, accessible and empathetic window into both the current crisis, and the wider experience of refugees from around the world. 

Our extensive film catalogue features several films directly related to the situation in Afghanistan - both available to stream on Into Film+ and to order on DVD. Explore the titles below to get you started:

We are firm believers that film can offer a unique perspective on those who become refugees, giving a voice to those who can speak with authority on the reasons why people choose to flee their countries, and the hardships they face while seeking a safer, more stable home.

We have numerous resources to help you broach the subject of refugees in the classroom, such as our Doc Academy resources around the film Exodus, which includes a Forced Migration Toolkit to help students reflect on and discuss issues around refugees, whilst also inspiring them to learn about and engage with social action and advocacy.

The Breadwinner (2017)

Based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is particularly poignant to watch now as it is set in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, in 2001, when the Taliban were last in control. Parvana is an 11-year-old girl who helps her father in the marketplace as he regales her with historical tales and stories of the imagination. However, their bond is broken when he is unjustly arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban. Parvana,  along with her new-found friend Shauzia, disguises herself as a boy so that she can bring home enough food and water for her mother, sister and little brother to survive. As those around her begin to lose hope, she decides to bravely look for her father, and in the meantime becomes a storyteller of her own. 

This is a beautiful animation celebrating the universality of family bonds from the creators of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

As well as a general film guide that explores the film's key topics and themes, our unique resource, The Breadwinner: Raise Your Words was created for 11-16 year olds and uses the film to explore English, PSHE and citizenship through creative writing. 

The Breadwinner is available to stream on our our new streaming platform, Into Film+, which means teachers can access the film for free* at the click of a button.

He Named Me Malala (2015)

In 2012, 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai was targeted by Taliban assassins after daring to speak out against the closing of schools to girls in her area. Miraculously surviving a gunshot to the head, Malala has used her horrific experience to promote peace and advocate for access to education, especially for girls, who are at risk of being denied this right. 

With intimate footage filmed during 18 months with Malala and her family, this documentary from Oscar-winning director David Guggenheim charts the reprisals from the Taliban leading to her assassination attempt, her defiant recovery, and her rise to prominence on the international stage. While set in Pakistan, the inspiring story of Malala provides crucial insight into the Taliban and the bravery of the female activists fighting against their control across the Middle East.

Earlier this year, we launched a partnership with Doc Academy, which allows us to share free, easy-to-use resources for Secondary school teachers around documentary films. He Named Me Malala is major part of that collaboration and you can explore the six-unit lesson plans for English (split into two age tiers) below, as well as our film guide and an activity tool kit around local and global activism.

The Kite Runner (2007)

An adaptation of one of the biggest-selling and most talked-about novels of the decade, this powerful story of friendship and betrayal takes place in Afghanistan, beginning in the late 1970s. Although Amir and Hassan are born on different sides of the country's class divide - Amir is well-to-do while Hassan is the son of his father's servant - the two boys are firm friends. But when Amir fails to act to stop Hassan falling into the hands of a local bully, the results destroy their friendship. And as their country too goes through dramatic changes, that one childhood moment comes to haunt the rest of their lives.

Taxi to the Darkside (2007)

No war is ever without shocking stories, and that much is proved again in this tough but important documentary. Dealing with events that have taken place during the continuing conflict in Afghanistan, the film looks in disturbing detail at the story of one man - an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar - and the fate that befell him after he was accused of being a terrorist by the US Army. Taxi to the Darkside is a powerful film that was named Best Documentary at the 2008 Oscars.

Sonita (2015)

Sonita is a determined young Afghan rapper living as a refugee in Iran, who finds her dreams compromised when her family decide to arrange an unwanted marriage for her back in the homeland that she fled. This documentary not only offers an intimate insight into a delicate situation that exposes the differences in women's rights between Iran and Afghanistan, but is also interesting to consider in terms of the role of the filmmaker when it comes to documentary filmmaking. 

When director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami finds herself compelled to intervene in Sonita's dilemma, the film takes a radically different turn, with stark consequences for everybody involved.

If you're interested in facilitating broader discussions around refugees in other countries and contexts, you can find plenty more film suggestions and resources on our Refugees and Migration theme page.

* Screenings of Filmbankmedia's films for an entertainment or extra-curricular purpose require a Public Video Screening Licence (PVSL) from Filmbankmedia. State-funded schools in England are covered by the PVSL.

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