Yellow Director Elham Ehsas On The Oppression Of Women In Afghanistan

Director Elham Ehsas joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about his BAFTA-qualifying short film, Yellow. The film shares a story of a young Afghan woman forced to wear a Chadari (full body veil).

What was the inspiration for the film? 

The inspiration for “Yellow” came from my deep concern for the current oppression of women in Afghanistan, particularly the significant restrictions placed on their access to education and their freedom of expression. I wanted to shine a light on this issue and raise awareness in a way that felt gentle and nuanced rather than preachy.

The story of “Yellow” was born out of the desire to depict the experiences of Afghan women under Taliban rule through a personal and relatable narrative. The idea of a young Afghan woman buying a Chadari, a symbol of the oppressive policies, served as a catalyst for exploring the complexities of her journey.

The film’s inspiration also stemmed from the belief in the power of storytelling to humanize and create connections. Through the interaction between the Afghan woman and the shopkeeper, who represents the very system oppressing her, I wanted to highlight the common humanity that exists beneath societal divisions. These moments of connection and even joy within the darkness of their circumstances were essential to convey the message that, despite the walls between us, we are all fundamentally human.

Why is it important to tell the story of Afghan women? 

It is a matter of human rights and social justice. Afghan women have faced significant challenges and systemic oppression for many years. By amplifying their stories, I want to shed light on their experiences, give voice to their struggles, and advocate for their rights to be respected and protected.

Sharing the stories of Afghan women challenges popular stereotypes and misconceptions. Afghan women are often reduced to simplistic narratives in mainstream media but I want to show them as strong and resilient. I don’t want the world to forget Afghan women and what they are going through. 

Was there anything particularly difficult to film? 

The film’s limited budget and resources posed constraints that needed to be navigated creatively. Balancing the artistic vision with practical considerations was essential to make the most out of the available resources and ensure a compelling final product. The main issue was the one day shoot. Because of our budget, we had to get all the interiors within a day and me and my DOP Yiannis had to meticulously plan each shot to be on top of it. In the last minute, our 1st AD dropped out so me and Yian had to really co-ordinate and work together to make our day. 

What was it like directing and acting in this film?

It was actually an incredibly fulfilling and unique experience. Wearing both hats allowed me to have a comprehensive understanding of the story, characters, and the overall vision I wanted to convey.

Directing and acting simultaneously required careful planning and organisation. It was important to strike a balance between fulfilling my responsibilities as a director, such as guiding the creative decisions, overseeing the technical aspects, and working closely with the crew, while also immersing myself in the role as an actor and giving my best performance. A lot of it came down to surrounding myself with professionals around me who can look after themselves while I’m in the role, so I was really grateful to have such incredibly talented collaborators. 

Are there any directors/actors that influenced this film? 

I am heavily influenced by the still camera. I don’t like moving the camera unless it is really really warranted. This love of the static camera has been passed on to me by filmmakers such as Yasujirō Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Chantal Akerman, and Paweł Pawlikowski. Their films have a simplicity and subtlety that I admire, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the frame and the story. This minimalist approach influenced my decision to focus on the power of stillness and the use of static shots to create a sense of intimacy and contemplation within “Yellow.”

While these directors and actors influenced my creative process, it’s important to note that “Yellow” also has its own distinct voice and artistic vision. The film is a product of various influences, personal experiences, and collaboration with the talented cast and crew.

What is next for you? 

I have some exciting projects lined up that I want to get off the ground and currently in the writing phase of my debut feature (and it’s really really hard) but fingers crossed! 

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