September 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm , by Sonia Harmon
What if you looked at war as through the eyes of women? That’s the question at the heart of the new five-part PBS series, Women, War & Peace, which focuses on the perspectives of women living in conflict zones around the world. “We have this image of a male hero striking out into war,” says Abigail Disney, an executive producer. “And littering the sidelines, if they’re visible at all, are these women who don’t really matter. But there are no sidelines. Women very much do matter. We need to restore women to a story they’ve never been a part of.”
The series begins airing Tuesday, October 11th. But this Thursday at 7:30 EST, LHJ will present an exclusive online sneak preview of Peace Unveiled, the third installment in the series, which follows three women in Afghanistan who are fighting for the right to be heard in their country’s political arena. (To see the preview log on to livestream.com/independent lens.) Afterward, stick around for a live online panel discussion with Disney and director Gini Reticker, where you can talk with other viewers about the film and submit questions for the filmmakers.
In the meantime, check out our interview with Disney (yes, that same Disney—Walt Disney was her great-uncle) about the series and what you can do to help.
How difficult was this series to film?
There were incredible difficulties in getting footage and getting the women to feel safe enough to talk to us because they were being threatened every day. Some of them were getting death threats in text messages on their cell phones while we were interviewing them. So it was hard, but we had to find women who were willing to step up and take a chance being on camera.
What are you hoping to accomplish with these films?
To give people a fuller, more nuanced picture of what it is when we go to war. Women are being targeted more than they’ve ever been targeted specifically because they’re women. But there’s also this other question about peace. What if you bring the women to the peace talks? What if you ask them what they need in post-conflict? We have an image of these Afghan women lumped under burqas but these are feisty, brilliant, articulate, strategic women who are really making themselves count.
How do you work on these tough topics and stay optimistic?
I am a frighteningly happy person! People always ask me, “Why are you so happy? You do all this grim work, and you constantly look at war and all these terrible things.” But I believe that if you go ahead and look at what’s hard to look at and stay there with it, you’ll find all the good stuff that you haven’t been seeing. The good news is the people that you encounter who are doing these incredible things. I feel like I can do anything knowing that these women are out there living their lives. It’s a gift to give other people access to that information.
How can people watching Peace Unveiled become involved with women’s rights issues?
There’s a ton of work to be done. Some of it is just as simple as these organizations—these little, crafty, smart, strategic, entrepreneurial organizations—that need money and support from people like us. For instance, the Global Fund for Women and UN Women raise money for those scrappy, entrepreneurial organizations, so that’s one thing. But I also really believe in just bearing witness to what they’re going through and insisting to our leaders that this should matter to them. We can’t compromise these women and as citizens, we really need to figure out what our duties are in Afghanistan.
How has being part of the Disney family name affected you and your ambitions? Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
I stayed away from that business in part because I felt like I had to make my own mark on the world and it couldn’t be because I was somebody’s niece. But when I went to Liberia for the first time in 2006 and I heard the amazing story of Pray the Devil Back to Hell; that’s when I decided I really had to do this work. I was in this unique place where I heard these incredible women’s stories and I could, if I chose to marshal all my resources, make the world know it. If I didn’t do it, who else was going to do it?