Cleveland International Film Festival } March 25 – April 5, 2020 } Tower City Cinemas

Pain as Fuel to Do Something Good

April 01, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The United States, particularly Ohio, is all too familiar with the opioid epidemic. But as we focus on our own crisis and its devastating toll, it’s easy to forget that it runs much deeper in more fragile parts of the world. “Laila at the Bridge” serves as a window into modern-day Afghanistan—a war-torn country with the highest rate of opioid addiction in the world.

“We can’t pretend that this film represents the whole picture of Afghanistan—countries and societies are complex and no single film can claim to define them,” says Elizabeth Mirzaei, who directed the film with her Afghanistan-born husband, Gulistan. “But we hope that it offers an intimate glimpse into a world that many would never otherwise see and a greater understanding of one of the human—lesser known—costs of war.”

The film tells the story of Laila Haidari—known in Kabul as the “mother of addicts.” Every day, she ventures beneath an infamous bridge where scores of addicts get their fix. There, she gathers whomever she can to take them to an addiction center she founded. It’s the story of a woman who takes great risks—both personal and financial—to change her country for the better.

“I think that much of Laila’s determination comes from pain and suffering,” Mirzaei says. “She has survived much in her life—from child marriage to the pain her brother’s drug addiction caused her—to grow up as a refugee with very limited rights. She didn’t wallow in this pain; she transformed it into fuel to do something good.”

The opioid epidemics in the United States and Afghanistan, in many ways, are far different crises. The US epidemic, for example, is largely brought on by the over-prescription of legal opioids for physical pain. In Afghanistan, Mirzaei says, people have been traumatized by decades of war, which has led to the use of opium and heroin to try to lessen mental pain.

“Arguably, corruption played a role in both—whether from the pharmaceutical industry in the United States, or from officials in the Afghan government,” she says. “In both cases, ordinary citizens are the ones who suffer.”

Mirzaei moved to Afghanistan in 2007 as a volunteer photography instructor with AINA Photojournalism Institute. Gulistan, meanwhile, spent much of his life in Iran as a refugee but returned to Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban in 2001 to work as assistant to the editor-in-chief at the country’s only independent newspaper.

Together, they’ve crafted a film that gives a voice to the voiceless and shows audiences that no matter the situation, struggle or circumstance, we can all work to make the world a more just place for society’s most vulnerable.

“I believe that Laila shows us how pain can be transformed into determination to do something good; how our sufferings or hardships don’t define us but can propel us to move forward and do great things,” Mirzaei says.

—Timothy Magaw

PHOTO: Husband-and-wife filmmakers Gulistan, left, and Elizabeth Mirzaei met when she moved to Kabul in 2007 as a volunteer photography instructor at AINA Photojournalism Institute.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/01/19 @ 1:50 PM – Laila at the Bridge
04/02/19 @ 6:50 PM – Laila at the Bridge
04/03/19 @ 9:20 AM – Laila at the Bridge

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