oya Sadat thrives on intensity. She wakes up at four a.m. to discuss her latest film ideas with friends, and she can enjoy a three-hour discussion on the internal contradictions of modernity. A self-trained filmmaker, Sadat, 26, does not crack a smile. She has serious brown eyes. A sense of humor is not one of her traits.
Her first movie, Ellipsis or, trans-lated literally from Persian, Three Dots (2003), was the subject of debate and discussion at film festivals around the world; inside Afghanistan it won her six of nine awards for filmmakers, including best director and best film. One of Afghanistan’s handful of women filmmakers, she makes films that shed light on women’s rights— a controversial subject.
Ellipsis is the story of a rural widow who, with her children, fights to survive in a region where the local warlord forces her to smuggle narcotics to Iran. “My goal was to show the voices of the forgotten people, those in the villages who tried to become urban but did not have the means. So they were forced to become armed commanders and thieves,” she says in a telephone interview. Sadat’s style is minimalist, and resembles the genre of independent Iranian films, some of which employ local amateurs as actors, as she does.
Ellipsis has been shown on television in Afghanistan, and Sadat says it was well received. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission bought the rights to the film, whose most controversial aspect is that some of the actors are Afghan women. In fact, it took Sadat more than a year to find women—all amateurs—to fill these parts. For shooting, Sadat took them and her film crew to the desert on the border of Iran and Afghanistan. In that remote region, local commanders threatened her. After six days of filming, Sadat and her crew hurried back to Herat, where she finished the film. Japanese investors and Siddiq Barmak, the creator of the award-winning 2003 movie Osama, helped fund the project.
Born and raised in Herat, Sadat had not traveled outside the country until a few years ago, when her first film was released. She endured the Soviet invasion, the Mujahideen and the Taliban years, reading books at home to keep herself occupied. She recently received her bachelor’s degree in political science and law from Herat University, training which helped her carry out research for Three, Two, One, a documentary about illiterate Afghan women produced by her sister Ilka. She plans to show the documentary to the Afghan parliament in the hope of influencing pending legislation.
In the last few years, Sadat has traveled to Germany, France, Singapore, India and South Korea, where she studied at the Asian Film Academy and made a short film with other students called The Calling.
Her next film, she says, will also focus on women, but her biggest challenge has been funding. To raise money for her next feature, she has signed with Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most-watched station, where she will direct a drama series called Home.
“I didn’t wait for things to be safer and better because people can appreciate and differentiate between simple and complex ideas, but they’re afraid,” she says. “I worry about the consequences, but I’m still willing to make the sacrifice.”