Film premiere 10/31: Inside one girls’ school in war-torn Afghanistan

A student writes on the blackboard at the Zabuli School in Deh-Subz, Afghanistan. (Beth Murphy/GroundTruth Films)

In Afghanistan today, there is no social issue more controversial than women’s rights. And nothing cuts to the heart of the matter more than the education of young girls because nothing so radically threatens to change a deeply patriarchal society than rising generations of educated women.

WhatTomorrowBrings-OneSheet_r1a_2016-08-05In 2009, when Razia Jan, a visionary and fearless educator, arrived in the war-blasted village of Deh’Subz to open the Zabuli Education Center, she placed herself at the center of her country’s turmoil. As recounted in the new documentary by GroundTruth Films director Beth Murphy, “What Tomorrow Brings,” Jan faced families and village elders hostile to female education, threat of Taliban violence and the haunting question of what would happen when U.S. forces withdrew.

To sustain herself, Razia had her own resourcefulness, the passion of her teachers and, perhaps most surprisingly in a conservative rural setting, the free-spirited determination of the girls themselves to get an education. “What Tomorrow Brings” has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 at 10 p.m. ET.

Murphy’s adaptation of “What Tomorrow Brings” was a central part of the multimedia project “Foreverstan: Afghanistan and the Road to Ending America’s Longest War,” which this year was recognized with a National Edward R. Murrow Award. GroundTruth Films assistant director Nathan Tisdale was co-producer on the film and an editor on Foreverstan.

“Nobody has the right to prevent girls from getting an education,” Jan tells her students in the film. “If you were home you’d be washing clothes and sweeping. Your family would think of you like this flower. Theirs to protect or destroy. But this flower says, ‘Here I stand. Strong. Even if you try to destroy me I will bloom again and I will be beautiful.’”

Murphy talked about her journey to make the film.

“I started filming in 2009, shortly after the Zabuli Girls’ School opened,” said Murphy. “My final shoot was in December 2015 for the school’s very first graduation. What I witnessed during the years of filming has been remarkable, and the transition in this community has been dramatic. It has transformed from a village that did not support girls’ education to one in which fathers and elders are now excited to send their daughters on to college.

“The Zabuli School started with 109 students. Today there are more than 600 girls going to school in grades kindergarten through 12. In the years I have been filming there, grades kindergarten through 5 have doubled in size. Slowly, parents and elders are chipping away at attitudes that keep girls out of the classroom across Afghanistan, and I want to share a story that shows what’s possible.

“Educating girls in Afghanistan means finding a precarious balance between hope and tradition, even at the best of times. These girls, their teachers and the school administrators face serious threats and formidable obstacles every day. I think they have earned the right to be heard. And I am hopeful that while the film brings attention to the precariousness of girls’ education in Afghanistan, it can also spotlight a community that is lighting the way for others.”

GroundTruth Founder and Executive Producer of the film, Charles Sennott, issued the following statement:

The national premiere on PBS of “What Tomorrow Brings” represents six years of determined and courageous field reporting by GroundTruth Films Director Beth Murphy that will take you inside one girls’ school in Afghanistan. 

There are currently 3.2 million Afghan girls in school and approximately another 3 million out of school. What makes this film extraordinary is that it reveals through the stories of the girls, their families and the school teachers themselves just how much the fate of girls education in Afghanistan hangs in the balance as the Taliban continue to fight to return to power.

We’re proud of Beth’s incredible commitment to telling this story. And we’d like to highlight how the film came about as part of an innovative model for multimedia journalism. What Tomorrow Brings grows out of our Special Report titled, “Foreverstan: Afghanistan and the Road to Ending America’s Longest War.” In that immersive online reporting project, Beth produced five short films about the school. Her work on these shorts earned GroundTruth an Edward R. Murrow Award and has now culminated in this one hour documentary, which is already receiving great praise by reviewers and film festival audiences. 

We deeply believe in this pioneering approach of layered reporting, with our team producing across platforms and telling the story through photography, writing, podcasts and video. We hope you will take the time to view the film on October 31 on PBS and then take a moment to visit GroundTruth’s Foreverstan project and immerse yourself in the still unfolding story of the longest war in American history and what it means for all of us, particularly the Afghan people. 

Learn more about the Zabuli Girls’ School and Razia Jan’s efforts here

“What Tomorrow Brings” is a feature-length film with roots in GroundTruth’s Foreverstan Special Report, which examined the road to ending America’s longest war.