What’s it like to be a woman in contemporary Afghanistan? In her gripping documentary View From a Grain of Sand, Los Angeles–based filmmaker Meena Nanji answers this question through the specific experiences of three women: Shapiray, who fled the Taliban and, at the time of filming, was living in the barren New Shamsitu Refugee Camp in Pakistan, where she had become a teacher; Dr. Roeena, a doctor who fled Afghanistan during the country’s civil war and struggles to aid women in another section of the Shamsitu camp; and Wajia, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a group dedicated to education and equal rights for women. By chronicling the experiences of these women, Nanji builds a richly textured history of radical change, moving from the 1960s — when urban Afghan women were able to attend school and were encouraged to seek professional careers — through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the current state of things, when life for many people in the country is untenable due to continued violence. (As one of Nanji’s subjects notes, “There isn’t so much as snake’s poison there.”) Mixing archival materials, interview footage and images of life in contemporary Kabul, Nanji narrates this history with clarity and passion, and the resulting film is an insightful, often heart-wrenching account of trauma, war and horrific rights abuses inflicted not just by men against women, but by the larger forces of religious, national and international power. More than that, it’s a reminder of our need to understand the complexities of national and religious struggle in other parts of the world. REDCAT at Disney Hall; Mon., Nov. 13, 8 p.m. (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org.

—Holly Willis

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