Hot Docs 2018: Our Review of ‘Laila at the Bridge’

Hot Docs 2018: Our Review of ‘Laila at the Bridge’

This is a good film from directors Elissa Sylvia and Gulistan Mirzaei that quickly takes a dive into Afghanistan’s capital. Kabul is home to many social classes but this documentary focuses on two, the first being the city’s opium addicts. The second group are the government ministers and businessmen who can help them. Then there’s the strong woman who is poking the latter to do more for the former. And that woman is Laila Haidari.

Laila at the Bridge does a decent job at contextualizing the Afghan opium trade. It started during the Taliban regime and increased after the War On Terror. However, the movie follows the pandemic’s personal victims and survivors. It follows the titular subject as she struggles to keep her rehab centre afloat. Some of it involves meeting ministers, proving that her centre has potential. During these scenes, the movie doesn’t shy away from her confrontational personality.

The film also shows a few people within Haidari’s close social circle. All of them experience different levels of recovery and relapse from the drug. There’s Ikhtiar Ghul, one of the gentle giants squatting under Kabul’s bridges whom she picks to treat at her centre. There’s also Hakim, who has succeeded in beating his addiction. Like Haidari, he adopted a child whose biological father is an addict. He also reunited with his family after recovering.

Clocking in at 105 minutes, it’s one of the festival’s longer documentaries and it covers a lot of ground. It doesn’t, however, explain exactly why the adversarial Afghan ministers are corrupt outside from the assumption that they are. I’m sure they are. There’s also the score with the usual string instruments playing whenever we’re seeing something sad. But while the government pretends to fix things, the doc shows us Haidari driving around Kabul to save lives.

Hot Docs is premiering Laila at the Bridge on April 30 at 6:30 PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. They’re also screening May 1 at 10:30 AM at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Last show is on May 4 at 8:30 PM at the Scotiabank Theatre.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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