Jennifer Lawrence hit the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday for the world premiere of Afghan director Sahra Mani’s feature documentary Bread and Roses, which she produced with Justine Ciarrocchi under their joint banner Excellent Cadaver.
Described as an unpoliticized tale of resilience, the documentary follows three educated, previously employed women whose lives have been upended by the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
“I was watching the fall of Kabul on the news in 2021 and I told Justine, you know, we need to find somebody on the ground, that can get a camera in there,” Lawrence said in an interview at Deadline’s Cannes Studio.
Ciarrocchi suggested Mani on the back of her powerful 2019 work A Thousand Girls Like Me about a young Afghan woman who seeks justice after having been sexually abused by her father for years.
“She’s the perfect person to do it,” said Lawrence. “Not only is she from Afghanistan, but her documentary was just so incredible and moving. And I think her point of view, not to mention her camera abilities are remarkable.
Like Lawrence, Ciarrocchi had been shaken by what she was seeing in the news out of Afghanistan.
“I think we had such an immediate reaction to the fall of Kabul in 2021 because the consequences for women were so dire. To see their circumstances collapse into a sort of pre-2002 scenario was unfathomable,” she said.
Mani had left Afghanistan a few days before the fall of Kabul to attend a film festival in Europe.
“At that time, I didn’t know it would be the last time I closed the door. The tragedy happened to so many people in our country, the ones who left and the ones staying inside the country, they are all still suffering,” she said.
Ciarrocchi spent two weeks tracking down Mani eventually getting a contact through her French producer. She had to persist to make a connection because Mani dismissed her first email as spam.
“Sahra was already in contact with women and had been shooting a little bit… so the ball was rolling. And then we said listen, if we can get you some resources, and give you a platform, we’d love to do that. And the rest is history,” she says.
Mani admits she was not sure whether she would be able to pull off a film, but continued to shoot on the basis that it was important to at least document the situation for women in Afghanistan.
She thanks Lawrence and Ciarrocchi for giving her the time and creative space to pull the work together.
“I didn’t feel a lot of control,” she says. “They leave me for one year. I didn’t know what was going to happen, [whether] it’s going to be a film or not, but I did my best.”
In spite of their hardships, Mani says she felt uplifted by the accounts of the women in the film and proud of their resilience.
“They remained hopeful for change and a better future at least for their girls and the next generation. They were really inspiring me. I never felt depressed,” she says. “I got so much energy from them. They were really encouraging me to do something, and at least document the battle, the battle against the Taliban dictatorship,” she explains.
Bread and Roses marks Excellent Cadaver’s third production after Causeway and the upcoming comedy No Hard Feelings, and its first documentary.
“What we want to do is just keep making things that we respond to, that we care about. We’re right at the genesis of the company so it’s hard to say what it is, or what it will be,” said Lawrence, when quizzed on the company’s direction.
“We’ll just keep following what’s important to us and what we want to make. We didn’t know what was going to happen in 2021 when the Taliban took over. This film was born out of necessity, emotional necessity.”
Check out the conversation in the video above.
The 2023 Cannes Film Festival runs May 16-27. Follow Deadline’s complete coverage of the deals and doings on the Croisette here.