Filmmaker Maryam Ebrahimi Discusses I Was Worth 50 Sheep

Posted on September 5, 2012

ITVS’s Annisa Kau caught up with I Was Worth 50 Sheep producer Maryam Ebrahimi to discuss the documentary, women’s rights, and finding Sabere’s unique story (which is the focus of the film). I Was Worth 50 Sheep aired as part of the Global Voices series on the World Channel (check listings) and is currently available online via PBS Video (for a limited time only).

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to Sabere’s story? I am a filmmaker from Iran. I have grown up in a hard disciplinary society where women are always challenging society and fighting for their rights. When I traveled to Afghanistan, I found this challenge more colorful and stronger. I saw women from behind the Burqa, who were isolated at home, aware of their rights and despite their difficult situations, they flee from violence. All of these women’s stories were impressive but we found Sabere more interesting because we could follow both her private life compared to her family. Other women were just isolated in the safe house. 

Tell us more about the women’s shelter that was helping Sabere. What are the risks they faced helping abused women like Sabere in Afghanistan and how did she learn to seek refuge there? It is very risky for the people who help abused women in Afghanistan. The society is not educated enough to understand the value of their activities. The Taliban or even relatives threaten the women. Their humanitarian aid has spread throughout Afghanistan by word of mouth, but there are still many women who are not aware of the opportunity. After many years, Sabere found the chance to call the police when her husband forgot his mobile phone at home. They arrested Sabere and she stayed in detention for three days. After investigation, they sent her to a safe house.

There are a few scenes of Sabere’s stepfather, Khalegh, in town unsuccessfully trying to sell goods. Can you tell us more about their economic situation and what difference a small piece of land and 50 sheep will do for them?  Poverty is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan. Khalegh is one out of millions of desperate Afghan men who are challenged every day with earning enough money for the family. A piece of land or 50 sheep can mean survival. Sabere helps Khalegh by making decorated pens, which is a skill she learned at the safe house. 

The scene where the authorities have closed in to arrest Sabere’s husband, Golmohammad, was really suspenseful. Is it normal for law enforcement to get involved in order to protect women or were the police only interested because Golmohammad was wanted on a charge of kidnapping? Their struggle to catch Golmohammad is because of his criminal background. They used Sabere’s case as a trap to catch him. 

Where is Sabere now? Are you still in touch with her? Sabere stayed in the shelter until five months ago and she has finally divorced Golmohammad. The recent news from the shelter is that she has married again. We have not heard about the husband. 

What do you hope will be the impact of this film?  We hope this film attracts more attention to women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite all the international aid, Afghanistan needs more focus on cultural and educational improvements.  Most of the aid comes from western countries. We hope by showing the film internationally, different countries will force Afghanistan to change the laws against women and protect them from violence. 

Please share one piece of filmmaking advice with our readers from the lessons you have learned while making this film. I learned more about Afghan women’s role in changing their own lives. I became more aware of their courage. Despite all the risks, everyday hundreds of women flee from violence in order to find a safe life.

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