The future of Afghan cinema: ‘Continuing to make films is the best revenge’

Three award-winning female directors from Afghanistan in the international film industry are pleading to save Afghan cinema – and to support women in particular. By Christine Lenin

At an event as part of the Berlinale, directors Sharhabano Al Sadat, Rakhsarah Qaim Magami and Zamarin Wahdat discussed how Afghan cinema can be supported. They called on Afghan female filmmakers, now living in exile, to include them in existing networks and enable them to fund projects.

The great importance of the networks was emphasized above all by the film director Sadat, who also gained international fame since her participation in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. A year ago she lived in Kabul. “I really wanted to believe in Afghanistan and be confident that I have a future there,” the 30-year-old director said in a panel discussion at the International Women’s Film Festival.

Born in Tehran as a child of Afghan refugees, she returned with her family to a mountain village in Afghanistan at the age of 11 and moved to Kabul when she was 18. “I even bought an apartment there.”

However, the Taliban’s recapture of Kabul in August brought her dream of becoming a filmmaker to an abrupt end: the Taliban ordered the country’s cinemas closed — and whether there was a future for the filmmakers is uncertain. Sadat was able to leave Afghanistan as part of the evacuations. In Hamburg, she was taken care of by colleagues from the film industry, and she is a member of this year’s Berlinale jury.

Can Afghan cinema appear in exile?

While Sadat hoped to be able to make Afghan films in exile, her Iranian colleague Rokhoshra Qaim Mughami was less optimistic during the “Imagine Afghanistan” event: Only such films would be made in the West with funding from people who continue to spread the same prejudices about Afghanistan and the Middle East, she said. “When I was shooting a movie about Iran, I was asked not to show footage of the many modern highways. In Kabul, I wasn’t supposed to show elevators.”

Although her documentary “Sonita” about a young Afghani rapper in Iranian exile won an award at the popular Sundance Film Festival in the United States, this film almost broke her heart, says the director. “We have to show the versions of Kabul or Iran that people in the West want to see. They don’t care what it is really like there.”

Criticism of Western clichés

The positive aspects in particular are neglected, added Zamarin Wehdat, a German-Afghan filmmaker who grew up in Hamburg. The British documentary Learning to Ski in a War Zone (If I Was a Girl), in which I worked as an assistant director, was rejected by several film festivals.

Reason: It’s not “dramatic” enough. “In Germany, you can simply tell a father-daughter story in which nothing dramatic happens,” Wahdat explained. But once the story happened in Afghanistan, all of a sudden it wasn’t enough.”

The discussion attracted a lot of attention online. The three directors are now pinning their hopes on films that can be made in exile. “It will take four or five years to learn new languages ​​and make contacts,” says Sharhabano Al-Sadat. “But in ten years we may have Afghan cinema made in exile.” “It is important to include the perspective of women, who are now being excluded everywhere in Afghanistan, that the best revenge is to continue making films,” the director continued.

Kristen Lin

© Deutsche Welle 2022

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