Tamana Ayazi is a filmmaker and journalist from Afghanistan. She has a background in business, sports, and activism. She is a NatGeo explorer who uses storytelling as a tool to advocate for equality and positive change. Ayazi recently worked on the Academy Award-winning short documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl).”
“In Her Hands” is screening at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which is running from September 8-18. “In Her Hands” is co-directed by Marcel Mettelsiefen.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
TA: “In Her Hands” is the story of Afghanistan and its people from 2020 until now. All sides, the women, the Taliban, and the people, take the audience on a journey of hope, dreams, struggle, pain, trauma, and betrayal.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
TA: I am a young female Afghan filmmaker who was born, raised, and lived in Afghanistan. The war and conflict in my homeland changed my life as a woman and a storyteller. When my co-director, Marcel Mettelsiefen, and I decided to work on “In Her Hands,” there were hundreds of stories, but we had to pick the right one, a story told and felt by the people. In the midst of uncertainty for the future of Afghans, it felt important to film what we were going through when the US and the Taliban were close to signing a deal in 2020, which followed the takeover of the country by the Taliban in 2021.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
TA: As an Afghan, I want people to know what Afghans are experiencing every day as a nation trapped in the middle of a crisis created by the world’s leaders, the Taliban, and corrupt Afghan leaders. I want the world to remember Afghanistan, especially Afghan women, who are paying more than anyone for a war we didn’t choose. I want people to be kind to the Afghans who became refugees and live in exile and to the Afghans stuck in Afghanistan. I want them to remind their leaders not to forget Afghanistan.
The world needs to know that our rights are their rights and we need to protect them together. This is not just a film for me, it’s more. My story is part of this film, and this film is part of my life. It’s personal, relevant, and important to hear.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
TA: For me, the biggest challenge was to separate being an Afghan, a woman, a filmmaker, and an activist. But it definitely helped us balance the story Marcel and I wanted to tell. Making this film was a life-changing experience that changed me and my life as a young Afghan woman. It’s difficult to work when you are in the midst of a crisis, in the midst of escape, and when you are grieving, but I had to transform the pain into strength and illustrate Afghanistan’s collective grieving through this film.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
TA: Marcel and I started working on this film in early 2020, and we brought the initial footage we had shot to Propagate Content. Propagate had a lot of trust in us and believed in the project, so they decided to finance production of the film. Eventually, we sold the documentary to Netflix, who has been a dream partner, as we were in late stages of production.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
TA: As an Afghan woman, my body is political, as are my rights, thoughts, and dreams. I did not choose to be a filmmaker, journalist, or activist. [I was chosen.] As a journalist and filmmaker, I am challenging the norms and trying to reshape the future. Storytelling helps me communicate my thoughts and emotions with a bigger audience. My work has led me to see places and people that I never imagined I would be able to experience. In addition, I tell untold and unheard stories to inspire, raise awareness, and deliver justice through storytelling with a focus on gender.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
TA: Best advice: “You’ve got it. Just surfing the waves as they come,” and, “Oh soul, you worry too much. You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Of anything less, why do you worry?” — a quote from Rumi.
Worst advice: “Separate the filmmaker Tamana from the Afghan woman Tamana, or you won’t be able to make this film.”
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
TA: Be bold. Be too much. Be yourself and have no fear. We need to make the theme of womanhood shine through.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
TA: “For Sama,” directed by Waad Al-Kateab. I feel like we have so much in common as women and filmmakers coming from two different countries with shared pain.
“Daughters of the Dust,” directed by Julie Dash. I watched the film when I was 17 and it inspired me, as it was the first feature film directed by an African-American woman.
W&H: What, if any, responsibilities do you think storytellers have to confront the tumult in the world, from the pandemic to the loss of abortion rights and systemic violence?
TA: We, as filmmakers, are responsible for confronting discrimination and injustice. It’s time to address the existing problems, raise awareness, and change mindsets and policies that are limiting human rights.
My goal is to pressure the Taliban to change their policies that violate human rights and to make the situation more bearable for women and the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan. Furthermore, I want others to learn from our mistakes, experiences, and lessons in other parts of the world.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
TA: On a personal level, we, as storytellers, need to ask for what we deserve and pave the way for others. Film industry decision makers must monitor this as a serious matter and must hold production companies accountable for who they bring on board as partners. We need more people of color in the film industry, especially in decision-making positions.