THE SHARP EDGE OF PEACE (Hot Docs 2024) – Review by Liz Braun

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The Sharp Edge of Peace is an infuriating documentary about Afghanistan. The film had a world debut April 27 at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto.

The film concerns the attempts made by women leaders and others to restore women’s rights in Afghanistan via negotiations with the Taliban. It opens with footage of peace negotiator Fawzia Koofi in hospital, as she has just survived an assassination attempt. Koofi is one of four women chosen to be part of the Afghan government’s negotiating team as the country attempts to recover its footing after the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops, and the rise of the Taliban.

The other three women are journalist and politician Sharifa Zurmati, physician and politician Habiba Sarabi and politician Fatima Gailani; it’s not possible to describe these tireless advocates and the work they do for Afghanistan and its women in a few words, but the film offers an excellent shorthand. By focusing on the four and their work, The Sharp Edge of Peace director Roya Sadat gives a clear picture of the country’s current plight.

After 40 years of conflict and the current authoritarian regime, Afghanistan is in the grip of religious oppression and gender apartheid.

As the film points out, women leaders trying to achieve positive change in Afghanistan are either killed or have to leave the country. The four women at the heart of this documentary are at risk at all times, as are their families.

But hope springs eternal, right? The peace negotiations began in 2020. The four women are part of a 26 person government team. Their main goals are an immediate ceasefire and the recognition of women’s rights in the country.

It is Fatima Gailani who says she hopes to show the Taliban that this is not the same Afghanistan as it was 25 years ago when the Taliban last took over. This is a place where women are now educated and a part of daily life and society.

Perhaps the most telling footage here is a look at Dr. Sarabi’s work in the human rights and vulnerable groups consultations; the film shows people testifying to what their lives became after, for example, losing a leg in an explosion or after becoming hearing impaired once enough bombs had gone off close by.

It’s a brief and devastating sequence that illustrates clearly what decades of war look like.

The women discuss what’s going on at the peace negotiations: the Taliban say they recognize women’s rights within Islam. What does that mean, asks one?

It means the Taliban returned to power and by 2022 Afghanistan saw the annihilation of women’s rights — no more education, no leaving the house except in a burqa and in the company of a male guardian, no more women judges or lawyers, no women in public spaces, etc.

It is maddening and so tragic to see these bearded extremists ruling by violence while the women of Afghanistan risk life and limb — literally — to have any semblance of an existence. The Sharp Edge of Peace is a calm, loving tribute to four women, but it inspired homicidal rage in this viewer.

Like An Unfinished Journey (from directors Aeyliya Husain and Amie Williams), another Hot Docs entry, The Sharp Edge of Peace sends a clear message to the rest of the world, particularly to those who believe “it can’t happen here”. Anyone not worried about the global drift to the right and the consequent erosion of women’s rights needs to see these Hot Docs films about the women of Afghanistan. ASAP.

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.