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Forging hope from heartache

Filmmaker Beth Murphy follows two Sept. 11 widows as they travel to Afghanistan to help Afghan widows. Filmmaker Beth Murphy follows two Sept. 11 widows as they travel to Afghanistan to help Afghan widows.
Email|Print| Text size + By Leslie Brokaw
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2008

How do you move beyond tragedy? Sometimes the only way is to turn your focus to others.

Susan Retik was living in Needham and Patti Quigley in Wellesley when their husbands were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Both had small children and both were pregnant. In the months afterward, they began hearing more and more about Afghanistan, and they had a simple but dramatic thought: What are the lives like for Afghan women who have lost their husbands?

As a way to forge incredible pain into something more hopeful, Retik and Quigley started a nonprofit called Beyond the 11th to help Afghan widows. Their goal was to provide aid to women whose lives had fewer support networks than theirs.

Filmmaker Beth Murphy became aware of the project through her work as a board member of the International Institute of Boston, a service provider for new immigrants and refugees. And when Retik and Quigley traveled in May 2006 to see the Humanitarian Assistance for Widows of Afghanistan program in action, Murphy and two crew members, Kevin Belli and Sean Flynn, were in tow to document the trip.

The resulting film, "Beyond Belief," debuted last spring and played the Woods Hole Film Festival last summer, where it won the top prize, the "Best of Fest" award. At the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival in September, it picked up the Audience Award.

"Beyond Belief" is now getting a major run at the Museum of Fine Arts. The first night is Saturday at 7, with 13 more shows scheduled through March 27.

The filmmakers and subjects were never without anxiety for their own safety. Their main contact in the country, Italian CARE International employee Clementina Cantoni, was kidnapped before their trip (she was released 24 days later).

In a diary on the website of her Plymouth-based company Principle Pictures, Murphy wrote on her first day in Kabul that, "we know we face a couple of challenges: Susan and Patti are understandably worried about drawing attention to themselves, and Afghan women are generally told that they cannot be filmed."

The first challenge, she felt, "can only be addressed by giving Susan and Patti some time to acclimate to their new environment and respecting any feelings of discomfort." Two things would help overcome the second: "the fact that the film will most likely never air in Afghanistan, and, more importantly, the desire of widows to share their stories."

The Afghan women did tell their stories, and the Americans promised to bring the stories to others.

A film trailer is online at The full schedule of show times at the MFA is available at 617-267-9300 and

CONVERSATIONS WITH: Animators Yvonne Andersen, a professor emerita and now adjunct faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design, and her former student Amy Kravitz, now an associate professor of animation at RISD, will present an evening of their works and conversation about life in the world of animated film and video on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at MIT.

In 1963, Andersen started the Yellow Ball Workshop, providing animation workshops for young children in her Everett kitchen as she was raising her own children. Her RISD bio says that Yellow Ball "grew quickly from a children's art school to an animation studio for adolescents" and that the films the children were making "soon caught the eye of educators, distributors, publishers, corporations, and network TV, earning Yellow Ball an array of national clients from Frito-Lay to the White House and over 100 international film festival awards." At RISD, Andersen was head of the Film/Animation/Video department for nine years.

The evening takes place at 77 Massachusetts Ave. in room 6-120, on the MIT campus in Cambridge. The free program is part of the monthly Chicks Make Flicks series presented by Women in Film and Video/ New England. More information is available at 617-987-0259 and

SCREENINGS OF NOTE: Today at 3 and 5 p.m. at the ICA, the Roxbury Film Festival will present six new short films by Faith Kakulu, Tamika Lamison, Cam Mason, Thato Mwosa, Andrew Reuland, and Jorge Morgan. The Roxbury Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year; festival dates are July 29 to August 3 (617-478-3103 and

Boston University professor of biology Michael Baum, whose research focuses on how scent influences sexual attraction (in mice, anyway), will introduce the Kathleen Turner-William Hurt scent-fest "Body Heat" on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. It's part of the theater's Science on Screen series (617-734-2500 and

Open Screen invites all comers to the Coolidge on Tuesday at 7 p.m., with everyone invited to screen their work on a first-come first-served basis. An e-mail from Open Screen cautions regulars that "there is some new competition for our spot on the Coolidge calendar" and that a good showing on Tuesday is crucial to the program's survival. Organizers say the evening's audience favorite will be posted on the Coolidge website.

The 13th annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival opens on Friday at the Brattle Theatre. It runs through Feb. 23, and this year it features a special 100th birthday tribute to Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs, Sylvester the Cat, and Foghorn Leghorn (617-876-6837 and

And last but certainly not least, the magical 1956 children's film "The Red Balloon" has been restored and is getting a theatrical re-release at the MFA. The story of the boy who befriends a balloon on the streets of Paris won the Palme d'Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. It's paired with "White Mane," the story of a wild stallion and the boy who tames him. They're playing on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., next Sunday at 10:15 a.m., and on Feb. 21 and 24.

Leslie Brokaw can be reached at

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