My first taste of Afghani cinema

I’m behind with my “film diary” as usual :] My last weekend was very intense due to the Polish National Championships in Figure Skating about which I’ll hopefully write more later *grin*

So anyway - all the films in this post were viewed on the 22nd of November. I hope I remember them well enough to give a good description :] The films were shown as part of some special screenings of Afghan films in Warsaw. They mainly showed short and medium length films and even the feature length ones were short (usually not over 90min.).
As you may imagine by the content of this blog - I just *had* to go… I didn’t see all of the films (time is a bit difficult at the moment - that’s why there’s such a huge backlog of things to write about :]), but I certainly saw some *grin* And I had good company too ;)


Joy of Desire (Afghanistan, 2007)

Runtime: 33′
Director: Qader Arya-ee
Plot: The man of the house gets violent with his wife and daughters because the cat keeps eating up his birds.

Impressions In Short
I’m putting the films up in the order I saw them in, so this was the first one… And frankly when this one started I started wondering why I had bought tickets for two blocks of films rather than just one (fortunately all the other films were much, much better ;) ).
The lack of funds was very clear and craft-wise it was very poor also. The topic was very depressing on top of that (I sometimes like depressing films, but they have to be well done).

Some Details
When the Taliban conquered Kabul in September 1996, they broadcast 16 decrees on Radio Sharia which from then on would be imposed on everybody in Afghanistan’s capital. Most of them sound like something from Monty Python to a Western ear (for example no. 15 was Prohibition against tailors sewing women’s clothes or taking measurements of women.). One of few which does not is no. 5 - Prohibition against the rearing of pigeons and bird-fighting (AFAIK this is prohibited in most Western countries also). Bird-fighting has a long tradition in Afghanistan and now that the Taliban have been removed it is coming back.
The film is about a man who engages in the practice. He also regularly beats up his wife and daughters. When one day the cat eats his favourite bird he beats up his wife so savagely that she dies.

Nope. I would advise everyone to stay away from this one :]

Beiganah (Afghanistan, 1987)

Runtime: 30′
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Plot: Mr John is an American visiting a village in Afghanistan. How will his presence effect everybody?

Impressions In Short
A quiet and slow, but very skilfully made film. Reminded me a lot of Soviet cinema (with good reason - Siddiq Barmak studied in the Moscow Film Institute).

Some Details
It has a slow tempo and a distinct mood. The music of the Beatles is omnipresent in the film (I bet they didn’t get permission to use it - getting the rights to use their music is so expensive that hardly anyone dares to do it) and it’s sort of the one thing that gives the events in the film a time frame. It’s set in the Pashtoon countryside, where life seems to flow in slow and regular patterns - not that easy to put a time stamp on it I guess.
Afghanistan was once a popular tourist destination for hippies and the music places the events in those times or perhaps soon after them (Mr John doesn’t particularly look like a hippie). It starts out rather humorously - Mr John’s presence in the Pashtoon countryside is rather amusing as you may imagine. But the film gets more serious when he doesn’t understand certain customs and the hospitality and honour of a farmer gets abused, which in turn has its consequences.

I think yes :) I mean it’s not like you really must see it, but if you think this sounds interesting, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Kabul Cinema (Afghanistan, 2002)

Runtime: 17′
Director: Mirwais Rekab
Plot: The story of a boy who manages to save small pieces of the 35mm films that used to be shown in Kabul’s cinema (it was burnt down by the Taliban). He starts earning money by showing the films in a dark box to boys in the neighbourhood.

Impressions In Short
Very interesting idea and even though it’s a very low budget film it had some good craft too :)

Some Details
It’s kind of cute (romance between a little boy and little girl always is on screen ;) ), but it’s also a rather clever way of showing the situation during the Taliban rule I think. The idea is by Siddiq Barmak in fact (I guess in a way Barmak *is* Afghan cinema - he’s by far the most prominent name).
It was also fun to see all the film references - the clips of Charlie Chaplin, old Bollywood films etc. One gets the feeling that cinema must have been an important pastime in Afghanistan before the Taliban came.

Yes - I mean provided that you have at least a small interest in Afghanistan :)

Diwar (Afghanistan, 1983)

Runtime: 8′
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Plot: Children keep trying to write the word “peace” on the wall. Soldiers violently stop them, but new children keep on trying.

Impressions In Short
Slightly confusing if you don’t know the context, but it has some very beautiful craft - again Soviet style.

Some Details
Me and Kin were both a bit “WTF?” after seeing this - as in the film is nicely shot, but what the hell was it about ;) It didn’t help that we weren’t able to tell that the word being painted on the wall was “Peace”.
Reading the short brochure advertising the screenings helped loads though ;) This is a short film which Barmak made while still in film school. Apparently, it was made in protest at the Soviet Union’s increasing presence in Afghanistan. It’s shot with Russian actors with no dialogue - it would be easy to miss that this film has anything to do with Afghanistan.

Don’t know :) I kind of liked it, but I think it’s mainly interesting in the context of Barmak and Afghan cinema.

Last Call (Afghanistan, 2008)

Runtime: 6′
Director: Sayed Ali Reza Sajjadi
Plot: An animated love story of two matchsticks.

Impressions In Short
It’s kind of funny - especially the female matchstick with her sexy hips and all ;)

Some Details
I don’t think I’m up for giving much of a description :] I am animation illiterate, so I find it hard to say much or even form an opinion about animation (I know that sounds strange, but I really feel like that ;) it’s much easier to comment on something when you have some context - something to compare it with).
So anyway - it was cute and funny ;)
I guess for me it’s interesting to see Afghanistan making computer animated films - the credits clearly indicated there was an Afghan studio behind it.

Er…… How should I know, it’s animation *grin*

Edammeh Rah (Afghanistan, 2006)

Runtime: 11′
Director: Nazifa Zakizada
Plot: A documentary about Afghan girls who train Taekwondo.

Impressions In Short
It’s a girl power kind of film, wheee! :) (female director also)

Some Details
Kin wasn’t sure, but said she thought she saw a Shahrukh Khan poster in one of the rooms - it seems rather likely that she did though *grin*
But, er… going back to the film *grin* it was quite lovely. It’s terrific to see girls in Afghanistan empowered this way considering what recent Afghan history holds and very interesting to hear of the problems they face. There are problems that wouldn’t occur to an average Westerner - like that of attending competitions in other towns, it’s not proper for a girl to stay the night away from home, you see. It’s brilliant to see that the parents are very supportive of them, the girls say it’s young men and boys that have more problems with empowering girls (it’s the brother, not the father that didn’t want to let his sister attend the competition).
There is another interesting aspect to the film also - Taekwondo seems to now be something of a national sport in Afghanistan. After all, they won the bronze medal in the men’s in Beijing this year.

Yes :)

Nejat (Afghanistan, 2007)

Runtime: 90′
Director: Saba Sahar
Plot: A policewoman fights a nasty gang.

Martial Arts Clip

Impressions In Short
Very commercial, heavily influenced by Bollywood and martial arts films and very feminist *grin* The craft behind it might not be that amazing, but we had a lot of fun all the same (as you may have gathered by the clip ;) ).

Some Details
I get the impression that copyright isn’t something that is considered important in Afghanistan these days which is hardly surprising ;) (me and Kin had the feeling we’d heard A LOT of the tunes in the film before ;) ).
But anyway, the interesting thing about this film is how despite it’s very commercial character and rather basic craft, it actually had a lot to say. It got through almost all of Afghanistan’s major problems today in an entertaining way and in just 90 minutes flat - opium, mafia, the situation of women, kidnappings & mysterious disappearances, corruption etc. In fact it touched upon something I was hardly aware of - a practice in which young boys work as a bacha bereesh which means “boy without a beard”. Usually sexual abuse is involved (in this film they were kidnapped for that purpose - though the sexual aspect of it was probably not obvious to most Western viewers). I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to the practice eventually as I’ve learnt quite a bit about it since, but at the moment I need to get through my film diary :]

I guess it’s not exactly high quality entertainment, but it *is* entertaining if you have the right mood and sense of humour for it and there’s actually a wealth of information about contemporary Afghanistan in there.
Of course if you didn’t like the clip then you best stay away ;) But otherwise, if it sounds interesting to you at all I would recommend it. And in fact it is easily viewed - the director herself has put it up on her youtube channel with English subs.

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