EDA Awards @ IDFA 2015 Filmmaker Interview: Nicole Nielsen Horanyi on MOTLEY’S LAW

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Director Nicole HoranyiFilmmaker Nicole Nielsen Horanyi won the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary at IDFA 2015 for Motley’s Law, a film about a remarkably courageous yet pragmatic woman who refuses to relinquish her righteous mission even under death threats. Few films are blessed with a character as compelling as Kimberly Motley, former beauty queen turned litigator, the sole American practicing in Afghan courts. With fierce commitment to her clients, she navigates the corrupt legal system, insisting that justice be done. Horanyi follows Motley between her office in Kabul and her home in the US, where she’s raising three kids. Kimberley Motley is a powerful reminder of what one person can accomplish with courage and tenacity. IDFA’s notes on Motley’s Law are included below. Read Nicole Nielsen Horanyi’s comments about making the film.

AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Nicole Nielsen Horanyi: I was introduced to Kimberley through a Danish journalist. I was immidiately drawn to her characther and thought this would make an interesting portrait. I loved Kim couldn’t be labelled right away. She is a complicated characther / woman, and I really rarely see complex portaits of women on film. Afghanistan came second to me, it was the political context, but for me as a director a strong main character comes first.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

NNH: I definitely learned a lot from Kim’s unapologetic approach to life as a woman. Her strength and fearlessness was inspirering.

AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

NNH: I worked with Denmark’s best documentary cinematographer, Henrik Bohn Ipsen, and I learned so much from him while filming. I normally film a lot on my own, but with this film I needed someone with the experience of filming in Afghanistan and I knew a man would help in that environment. I got to really study Ipsen while he filmed and I’ve never worked anyone who just keeps filming, never turns off the camera and works so hard to get the scenes you have talked about. Ipsen makes stunning images AND listens to what the characters are saying in the scene!

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges? Gaining trust? Filming conditions? Making a coherent story or creating impact through edited juxtapositions?

NNH: Gaining Kim’s trust was a long process, but the biggest challenge was filming in Afghanistan’s legal system. It took so much time to get the access and even though we would have the permits it was always a challenge to be a blond woman with a camera in that setting.


AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process? If so, please let us know how. If not, please let us know your thoughts about this question.

NNH: With this film I definitely believe being a woman made a difference because I can understand Kimberley as a woman in that male dominated world. We right a way had a bond and that of course helped me a lot in that process. But I always thought about that the film should not become sentimental.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future? Do you have specific career goals? A ten year plan? What sorts of “ideal world” opportunities would make it possible for you to succeed?

NNH: Right now I just want to be able to continue making the films I’m really passionate about and that give my life meaning and purpose. This is my fourth film since film School and I feel like I just started and there’s so much to learn and experience.

AWFJ: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

NNH: Andrea Arnold, Jonathan Glazer, Frederick Wiseman, Maysles brothers, Lars von Trier.

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

NNH: It takes hard work, patience and courage. And speak your mind. There comes great power and unique opportunities while pointing the camera and telling your story.

IDFA’s Notes on Motley’s Law: When Afghanistan adopted its first democratic constitution in 2004, a formal legal system was implemented and combined with the informal sharia law. Kimberley Motley is the only foreigner and the only woman authorized to take legal action within this system. She defends a wide range of clients, from a British soldier who has been imprisoned for two years for fraud without a fair trial to an Afghan girl who risks punishment for fleeing from her husband. The rampant corruption and lack of respect for human rights have made her combative. What’s more, she has become a role model. In addition to her work, she gets phone interviews and glamorous photo shoots. Motley is honest about her original motives. “I came here for the money, like everyone else here. I didn’t even know where Afghanistan was on the map.” She grew up in poverty and is determined to secure her children’s financial future. Motley is fearless: just days after someone throws a grenade into her home, she returns – her security guards are more afraid than she is. But when the peacekeeping troops are sent home, the situation becomes more dangerous. Should Motley stay put?

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