It's another typical month in the life of Kimberley Motley (pictured left), an American attorney working in Afghanistan since 2008. Monday and Tuesday she is in Amsterdam for the premiere of Motley's Law, Nicole Nielsen Horanyi's film about her. She then returns to the States for Thanksgiving, on Sunday flies to a conference in Guatemala, then is off to Dubai, then back to Afghanistan – "and I will be back in the States for Christmas."
A former Wisconsin beauty queen from an impoverished background who is now "the first and only Western litigation lawyer in Kabul," Motley works in circumstances lawyers back in the US would find startling. The beginning of Horanyi's doc shows her returning to her heavily protected home in Kabul. In her absence, somebody has lobbed a grenade into the building. Thankfully, it didn't detonate.
Motley acknowledges she had some misgivings when first approached about a documentary. She had been told the film would focus on the Afghan legal system. Instead, Horanyi eventually informed her, she would be the subject.
"I was a little concerned about that. I am always happy to talk about my clients and my cases, because I think that is extremely important, but I didn't want the film to be a commercial about me."
Motley describes herself as "very, very private" and says she is still troubled by her family appearing in the film. "I did not want that to happen … The only reason they are there is they all wanted to be. I was out-voted!"
On one level, Motley welcomed the filmmakers' company. "I am so isolated in Afghanistan." On another, she saw the doc as an opportunity to study her own behaviour. "I look at the film and how I can improve, personally and professionally... I could do better as a mother, not to pressure my daughter on colleges and things like that. That was the main thing I took away. Now, [daughter] Diva is taking a gap year and travelling with me."
Yes, there is the constant threat of violence in Afghanistan, but Motley tries to put it to the back of her mind. "I can't work like that; I work better angry than fearful. Fearful just cripples you. I always tell people, I grew up in a tough neighbourhood!"
It is instructive to hear the lawyer's thoughts on the Paris attacks earlier this month. "Obviously, I think it is very cowardly what happened in Paris. It is awful that there are people in the world who are that evil," Motley reflects. "Frankly, it is very familiar. One thing that really disappoints me is some of the response to it, which I think has been very racist and very hurtful. A lot of people are being anti-Muslim, especially US politicians, which is really disappointing. I think the people who are saying let's segregate Muslims – that's ridiculous…I hope the politicians get off their little racist soapbox."