Job description: Freelance television reporter and documentary filmmaker
Breakthrough: With an intrepid crew, Shah donned a burqua and used hidden cameras to go deeper into Afghanistan than any other Western journalist to make the critically-acclaimed docu “Beneath the Veil.”
In the works: A follow-up entitled “Unholy War,” to air on Channel Four on Nov. 11 and CNN on Nov. 17.
Pairing a personal journey to her father’s homeland with the risky undertaking of exposing the inhumane conditions of life under Taliban rule, Saira Shah’s “Beneath the Veil” caught critical attention after it aired on Channel Four News, BBC and CNN this summer. However it stepped into the international spotlight post-Sept. 11th as news nets repeatedly rebroadcast the docu in response to high viewer demand.
With a team including producer/co-director Cassian Harrison and war cameraman James Miller and the help of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), Shah gathered footage of such Taliban-sponsored atrocities as women being executed before cheering throngs in a Kabul football stadium and such civilian resistance as underground schools for girls and clandestine beauty parlors.
“For a lot of people who had cursory knowledge of Afghanistan, they maybe didn’t quite understand that there was a Taliban ruling government and there were the people that they rule and those two things are not necessarily one and the same. I think that this documentary helped drive that home,” says Vivian Schiller, senior VP production at CNN.
Recipient of the 1996 Amnesty International Press Award, the vet reporter has covered conflicts in such global hot spots as Iraq, Kosovo, Colombia and Sudan and was a staff reporter at Channel 4 News for seven years before ankling the position in 2000 to return to freelance reporting.
Having started her career covering the guerilla war against the Soviets in Afghanistan at age 21, her highly anticipated follow-up to “Beneath the Veil” will return to the subject of war, documenting how lives of ordinary Afghan people have been affected by its current incarnation.