'Hava, Maryam, Ayesha': women’s filmmaking practices in Afghanistan

Director Sahraa Karimi’s first fiction film, Hava, Maryam, Ayesha tells the ‘ordinary’ stories of three different women from Afghanistan. Hava is a housewife dealing with the patriarchal codes of her household, Maryam is a successful anchorwoman experiencing a painful break-up, while Ayesha is a young woman finding herself in the middle of an arranged marriage. All living in Kabul but in different social contexts, they cope with the intricacies of pregnancy in their own ways. Depicting complex female characters with a unique cinematography, Karimi challenges the expectations from an Afghan woman filmmaker. This film is “a glimpse of how Afghan cinema could be.”

Focusing on Karimi’s personal and directorial journey, this discussion presents a dialogue between two filmmakers/academics on women’s filmmaking practices in Afghanistan. The conversation explores the filmmaking conditions and challenges of being a woman director in modern-day Afghanistan and discusses the (im)possibility of making films as a female filmmaker under the Taliban regime now. Through discussion of Hava, Maryam, Ayesha, the discussion also unfolds the expectations from an Eastern artist and how she ‘fails’ those expectations by depicting complex characters experiencing everyday problems.


In her own words, Sahraa Karimi is “an independent filmmaker”, “an actor of change” and “an artist challenging society”. She was born in Afghanistan and raised in Iran. She received her PhD from the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Bratislava. In 2012, she returned to Afghanistan and contributed to the establishment of Kapila Multimedia House to promote independent Afghan filmmakers. She is the first and the only Afghan woman filmmaker holding a PhD in cinema and the first female chairperson of the government-owned Afghan Film since it began in 1968. In 2021, she fled Kabul when the Taliban forces took control of the city. Recently, Karimi has moved to Rome to work as a Visiting Professor at National Cinema School’s Experimental Centre for Filmography. Karimi has directed 30 short films, three documentary films and one fiction film, Hava, Maryam, Ayesha, premiering at 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019.

Pınar Fontini (moderator) is an Istanbul-based filmmaker and academic. Fontini has completed an MA in film theory, and she is currently working on her PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts and Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. As an academic, she works at the intersection of Near-Eastern cinema and feminist film studies. Since 2016, Fontini has been working on a trilogy focusing on women’s cinema in Turkey. What’s the Name of the Film?, awarded by Antalya Film Festival, and Dream Workers are the films belonging to this trilogy.