Sevara Pan is a journalist and film critic who has written for the DOX magazine, an initiative by the European Documentary Network, and Documentary Magazine of the International Documentary Association. She has also worked on the award-winning feature-length documentary films Pipeline (Dir.: Vitaly Manski) and The First Sea (Dir.:Clara Trischler).

Laila at the Bridge takes the viewer on a harrowing journey to Kabul’s dark underpass, following a woman who attempts to save as many drug addicts as she can.

Laila Haidari, a roundly built Afghan woman in her thirties, puts on her ballerina shoes and heads under the notorious Pul-e Sukhta Bridge, moving among the oppressive smell, discarded syringes and passed out bodies. Opium-addled men, many her seniors, call her tenderly «mother». In turn, she refers to them as «my boys», urging them to come to her makeshift rehabilitation centre, dubbed «Mother Camp».

Laila at the Bridge is an observational documentary that patiently follows the Afghan woman as she almost single-handedly tries to help the addicts at free shelters that she runs without government support or foreign aid.

A narco-state

Saving the addicts seems like a Sisyphean task in the face of relapses, financial hurdles and opposition from the government. For a time Haidari finances her shelters through her own restaurant, staffed with recovering addicts, but that soon becomes a futile project as a spate of attacks drives customers away. «War, war, everything from war», says Haidari empathetically as addict Ikhtiar Gul, a former bodyguard of Afghan President Najibullah Ahmadzai, now a disfigured man battered by war and life, shares his story, refusing to trim his beard as he does not want a scar from a bullet to show.

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