Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and her producing partner Justine Ciarrocchi touched down at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday to promote their label’s first ever documentary feature, “Bread and Roses” — a harrowing and emotional look at the lives of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
After two decades of American occupation, the nation fell once again to the insurgent group, which moved quickly to strip women of basic rights — simple freedoms like the ability to work, appear in public without a male chaperone and receive an education.
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“It all just collapsed and a matter of days,” Lawrence recalled to Variety. “I was watching this from America, where Roe v. Wade was about to be overturned. We felt helpless and frustrated with how to get these stories off of the news cycle and into people’s psyches. To help people be galvanized and care about the plight of these women.”
In the infancy of building their production company Excellent Cadaver, Lawrence and Ciarrocchi pursued Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani (“A Thousand Girls Like Me”) to help capture the stories of the suppressed women on the ground. The finished film, which was received with tears at its world premiere on the Croisette, is comprised largely of video filmed by its three subjects. Crews could not safely enter Afghanistan, nor could Mani, who had been abroad working when the Taliban took the country.
“The director was given footage from women using their cell phones, there was one trusted camera person that was used occasionally,” Lawrence said. Ciarrocchi recalled the high stress of protecting Mani and the subjects from retaliation.
“Sahra had been out of Kabul for about a month by the time it fell, she was in France. The great news now is that all of our protagonists are safely out of Afghanistan. We wanted to make sure that these women were safe and that we were being thoughtful, while also trying to shape a film. That was a wild set of responsibilities for us, and a very new experience,” said Ciarrocchi.
Financing was pieced together on the fly, the producers said, but singular images from the struggle of these women kept them motivated. Lawrence said that watching the children these women raise get tased in the street for protesting was “devastating” to watch as a mother, “You just want to do anything you can to change it.”
Lawrence and Ciarrocchi also observed an unsettling side effect from the footage of women living in lockdown — psychological damage from restrictions around leaving the house.
“One of our protagonists, Sharifa, we had to witness the tedium of her life. How it would feel to be a woman who is in the workplace and enjoying freedom in her city with her friends — to witness her cabin fever was painful,” Ciarrocchi said.
Another central character, a successful dentist forced to give up her practice under the Taliban, gave Lawrence a new appreciation for her own liberties.
“It makes me think about when I was little, how much I hated going to school. We take for granted that education is a way out for these women. [Our subject] had all of that stripped away and can’t even go outside without a chaperone. It’s a right to have as a human, to have something to do every day and be productive in society,” she said.
“Bread and Roses” is currently for sale out of the Cannes film market. Lawrence and her partner are hopeful the film will receive worldwide distribution, warning that its themes are more relevant than one would suspect in places like America.
“There is not much separating us from these other countries,” said Lawrence. “Democracy is all we have. and it’s sliding back. We have to keep our eye on the ball, which is individual freedoms.”
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