A group of apprehensive girls stare at their football coach, their expressions half-playful but their question unwavering: road or air? Their coach, surprised that the question is being asked in earnest, demands to know why it makes a difference how they travel to Pakistan even as the answer can be extricated amidst the girls' nervous giggles and concerned faces.
If we are to travel by road, the girls say, our parents will not allow us to play as we run the risk of being kidnapped by the Taliban.
Afghan Girls Can Kick, a documentary film on Afghanistan's first national women's football team, follows the players as they prepare for their first international matches amidst security concerns and patriarchal disapproval.
Directed by Bahareh Hosseini, the 2008 film marks the achievements of the female footballers, young women finding their place in a society freed from Taliban rule but still in the clutches of religious extremism and devastating acts of violence.
Documenting the journey of these brave girls, the film suffers on a few technical points. The editing is choppy, the camera shaky at times, and the documentary could do with a more fluid storyline. However, the strength of this work remains its deeply moving story.
Certain moments are cleverly juxtaposed, such as the girls' 5-0 victory in a match against international security forces, followed by lukewarm congratulations by Afghan officials and a reminder to wear headscarves for future televised matches. A particularly shocking instance occurs when Shamila Kohestani, the team's captain, recounts how under Taliban rule she was chased and beaten on the street by a man despite wearing a burqa, followed by footage of a group of women in burqas being beaten by a man, and a video of a veiled woman being executed with a gunshot to the head.
Tackling a variety of issues such as poverty, female literacy, and family support, the documentary examines gender issues in a way that is extremely critical yet encouraging. Surmounting several obstacles, the women of Afghanistan's first national female football team tell a story that is, above all, a deeply inspiring one.