by director Nora Twomey
I didn’t set out to direct a film about a young girl growing up in Afghanistan; in fact, I’m not entirely sure how I got myself into it. I’d been given The Breadwinner novel to read by my partners in Cartoon Saloon, as they’d been approached by Aircraft Pictures who had optioned the book. As I turned each page, I was spellbound by the character of Parvana. She’s a young girl who is brought up in a time of great conflict, yet she normalizes the most extraordinary circumstances. Parvana is at once universal and very specifically Afghan; she doesn’t move mountains or defeat foes single-handedly. Instead, she touches people’s lives and finds hope where it is in short supply. She binds her little broken family together with her sheer determination to survive. Parvana is beyond description, classification—she becomes what she needs to get through the day. She is constantly evolving and finding ways to grow to seek out the light. She led me by the hand and I followed her.
Deep within the threads of The Breadwinner are stories that give the film its heart—from personal stories such as cast members Kawa Ada and Noorin Gulamgaus families both fleeing war to try to find a new life to larger stories of conflict such as the role of the West in Afghan affairs, the proxy wars fought by Superpowers, and the prioritization of short-term goals at the expense of long term stability. Every story gave depth to the characters and a deep compassion to the form of the film.
More than any other film I’ve worked on, The Breadwinner was a group endeavor. Teams of animators, painters, compositors, voice artists, sound designers and musicians thought about and worked on the film more than they were required to solve problems and to bring solutions forward so that we could put everything we had to give on the screen. I am immensely proud of the 300+ crew members, funders and executive producers who got behind us.
At the very, very end of the credits, a young girls’ choir based in Kabul sings a folksong. They stop after verse, but one girl continues singing only to be hushed by the others before they all start to giggle. Listen out for it.