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SYNOPSIS: Mahboba Rawi, a strong-willed Afghan-Australian woman, and founder of Mahboba's Promise charity, has dedicated her life to helping orphans, widows and educating girls in Afghanistan. Abdul, one of the orphans, is now grown up and in love with Fatemeh, the girl next door. They have been exchanging romantic letters for over a year and hope to marry one day. But Fatemeh's father has other plans; he has decided to marry her off to anyone who can offer a large sum of money as her dowry. Devastated, Abdul is hoping when Mahboba arrives for her annual trip to Kabul, she will help him again. When Mahboba hears the story, she is determined the marriage happen but only has one month and limited resources.

Review by Louise Keller:
There is something wonderfully life affirming about this involving documentary about the selfless pursuits of a remarkable Afghan-Australian woman, who changes lives for the better. Australian/Iranian filmmaker Amin Palangi's uplifting documentary allows us not only to peek inside the world of Mahboba Rawi and that of her passion, but gets us involved in one of her 'projects', a Romeo and Juliet story in Kabul. Winner of the Audience Award at this year's Sydney Film Festival, this is a film with a big heart; beyond the central story of forbidden love and its obstacles, we become intricately involved in the unique life and customs of Afghanistan. It is reassuring to know that good things really can happen.

When we meet Mahboba, she explains the turning point in her life, when she decided to convert her grief from the drowning death of her six year old son as a strength - to help others. Mahboba's Promise is the charity she formed, through which she runs 19 projects to help children and educate young women. With Virginia Haussegger, an ABC television journalist, she heads to Kabul; we are there, looking over her shoulder.

There are flowers, hugs and smiles when they arrive at Hope House Orphanage, where the children line up outside to meet them. Mahboba is the matriarch - a mother figure to everyone. Food, dancing, clapping - the smiles are contagious. Abdul was one of the first children from this orphanage that Mahboba helped. Although he has now grown up, Abdul still needs her help. Fatemah, the girl he wants to marry, has been imprisoned by her father Nic-Mohammad, who is traumatised after his wife's death. He will only allow Abdul to marry Fatemah if he pays a hefty cash dowry. Alternatively, he needs to find a wife for his young son. 'Who will look after my household, if you take my daughter?' Nic-Mohammad demands.

As the twists and turns of the love story branch in every direction, we learn of other miracles for which Mahboba is responsible. There's a journey to her mother's birthplace - the village of Panjshir - where a school for young women allows them the privilege of learning, something their parents went without. There is another orphanage and Mahboba's quandary is how to tell one of her 19 projects that there is not enough funding to keep them going.

All the while, we get a sense of the harsh landscape and the way of life. The dirt roads are rough, the sandy dirt colour matching the rough walls of the buildings as children play in the laneways in the mud and puddles. There are cows wandering along the streets amid soldiers with guns, food stalls and people going about their business.

The journey to unite Abdul and Fatemah has many twists. Love comes with a price in Kabul. Tears flow - sadness, then joy. It's hard to imagine two lovers communicating via flashing torchlight in this day and age. 'See how I sort out men,' Mahboba says mischievously, after achieving the impossible after one final forthright phone conversation with the future father-in-law from hell. But the happy smiles between Abdul and Fatemah are brighter than all the glittering sequined wedding gown fabrics, sandals and eyeshadows. Such are the rewards in this rich and wonderful film whose elements will linger long after the credits have rolled.


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(Aust, Afghanistan, 2014)

CAST: Documentary with Mahboba Rawi, Seddiq, Abdul Fattah, Virginia Haussegger, Fatemeh, Nik Mohammad


DIRECTOR: Amin Palangi

SCRIPT: Amin Palangi

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Amin Palangi; Sanaz Fotouhi (sound)

EDITOR: Bill Russo

MUSIC: John Gray

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Bower Bird Films & Palangi Productions

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: 5 - 6 November, Chauvel Cinema, Sydney; 13 - 14 November, Cinema Nova, Melbourne; 20 November, Palace Nova, Adelaide; 27 November, State, Hobart; 3 December, Palace Electric, Canberra; 5 December, Luna Paradiso, Perth; These SPECIAL EVENT SCREENINGS will help to support Mahboba's Promise. Tickets $25 Concessions $20. There will be a Q&A with Amin Palangi at each screening.

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