The grim future of cinema in Afghanistan under the Taliban

“Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” by Sahraa Karimi. Photo: Collected

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“Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” by Sahraa Karimi. Photo: Collected

Following the repossession of Afghanistan by the Taliban, various filmmakers have sought to explain the fate of Afghan artists, in particular that of women.

Diana Saqeb Jamal, director of the Afghan-Bangladeshi short Roqaia, told Variety that she left her friends and family in Kabul and her belongings in her apartment. She compared her grief to the weight of the Hindu Kush mountains.

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Sahraa Karimi, director and head of the government company known as Afghan Film, explained that the Taliban are afraid of free thought, which particularly threatens the lives of artists. She fled the country safely with her family and two helpers in Ukraine.

“Kandahar” by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

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“Kandahar” by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

More recently, director Hassan Fazili, who is now in Germany, told The Times of India that art, cultural activities and cinema are doomed to destruction under the Taliban. Shahrbanoo Sadat, the Afghan filmmaker whose credits include the 2019 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight film “The Orphanage” recently successfully fled Kabul.

According to Variety, artists and civil society workers in Afghanistan are refraining from sleeping in their homes as they are now tracked down by Taliban militants with address intelligence technology. Sahra Mani, the founder of Documentary House, said intellectuals, filmmakers and artists had only two options: flee the country or be executed by the Taliban. It is very easy for them to track down female directors, whose numbers are as low as 10.

“Roqaia” by Diana Saqeb Jamal

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“Roqaia” by Diana Saqeb Jamal

The Taliban are a fundamentalist Islamic group, whose members were originally Mujahedin guerrillas, who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The group gained momentum in the early 1990s over background of civil war against the Mujahedin.

In 1996, they captured Kabul, declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate and imposed extreme measures such as widely banning the education and employment of women, music and television, and mistreating ethnic and religious minorities.

In 2001, the United States accused the Taliban of collaborating in the September 11 attacks by hiding Osama bin Laden, believed to be his master accomplice. After asking for evidence, the United States denied it, and within months the Taliban had been reduced to shreds by a campaign of American bombing. A new constitution based on the reformed constitution of the 1960s under the last king of Afghanistan was formed, which granted rights to women and ethnic minorities.

However, by 2006 the Taliban had recovered, with a mission to expel the United States. They were successful in 2021, which led to the withdrawal of American troops.

The Afghan film industry has been rejuvenated over the past decade with the help of a few women who have worked tirelessly and fought against obstacles. Their films mainly depict the life and daily struggles of Afghan citizens, especially women, in a country at war under the Taliban regime.

There are also many notable documentaries based on the US-Afghan War such as Zero Dark Thirty and Oscar winning Taxi to the Dark Side. Filmmaker and social activist Mariam Ghani, daughter of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani directed What We Left Unfinished, which studies the relationship between the Afghan film industry and the country’s national identity, from the abolition of the monarchy in the 70s to the Taliban in the 90s.

The efforts of Afghan directors have borne fruit as the films have won awards on international platforms. Osama, directed by Siddiq Barmak, won a Golden Globe in 2003. In 2019, Hava, Maryam, Ayesha de Karimi premiered in the Horizons section of the Venice International Film Festival.

On the other hand, Afghans have produced films like Kandahar (2001), a film that tells the story of an Afghan-Canadian woman who returns to her homeland to save her sister from suicide. It didn’t get much attention when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, but then came the 9/11 attacks, and the world wanted to know more about the hardships faced by women in Afghanistan.

It is in the making and the perception of our own art that our roots are reminded many times. On the other hand, art acts as a vector of knowledge of foreign cultures, and its restriction leaves us deadlocked. Now it seems that the years of hard work of Afghan filmmakers and artists have come to an end.

The author is a freelance journalist. Email: [email protected]


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