At an event held on the sidelines of the current Berlinale Film Festival, entitled “Imagine Afghanistan: Women Filmmakers and Their Vision”, directors Sharhbanoo Sadat, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami and Zamarin Wahdat discussed the best way to support Afghan cinema. They asked that Afghan filmmakers now living in exile be included in existing networks and receive funding for their projects.
Director Sharhbanoo Sadat further emphasized the importance of being included in the networks. Sadat has captured international attention since his feature ‘Wolf and Sheep’ won the 2016 Art Cinema award in the Cannes Film Festival’s Quinzaine des Réalisateurs selection.
Just a year ago, she was living in Kabul. “I really wanted to believe in Afghanistan, to believe that I had a future there,” the 30-year-old filmmaker said during a panel discussion at the Berlinale’s International Women’s Film Festival. Born in Tehran to a family of Afghan refugees, at the age of 11 she returned with her family to Afghanistan, living in a mountain village, before moving to Kabul at the age of 18. “I even bought an apartment there,” she says.
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However, the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021 put an abrupt end to his dream of a film career in Afghanistan. The Taliban have ordered the closure of cinemas in the country; thus, the future of filmmakers in the country is uncertain. Sadat fled Afghanistan and was taken in by film industry colleagues in Hamburg. This year, she is a member of the Berlinale jury.
Can Afghan cinema come from exile?
While Sadat hopes to be able to make Afghan films in exile, his Iranian colleague Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami showed less confidence during the event. In the West, she says, only films that repeatedly propagate the same biases about Afghanistan and the Middle East are funded. “When I made a film about Iran, I was told not to show any shots of the many modern highways. In Kabul, I was told not to show elevators.”
Although her documentary “Sonita”, about a young Afghan rapper in exile in Iran, won an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the United States, the film nearly broke her heart, said the filmmaker. “We have to show the versions of Kabul or Iran that Westerners want to see, and they’re not interested in what it’s really like there.”
Criticize Western clichés
Positive stories, in particular, are overlooked, added Zamarin Wahdat, a German-Afghan director who grew up in Hamburg. The British documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”, for which she was an assistant director, was rejected by many film festivals. The reason was that it wasn’t considered “dramatic” enough, she said. “In Germany, you can tell a father-daughter story where nothing dramatic happens,” Wahdat explained. “But as soon as the story takes place in Afghanistan, suddenly it’s not enough.”
The roundtable received a lot of support on the web. The three directors now place their hopes in films that can be made in exile.
“It will take us four or five years to learn new languages and make contacts,” said Sharhbanoo Sadat. “But in 10 years, we may have an Afghan cinema that is created in exile.”
It is crucial to include the point of view of women, who are again excluded everywhere in Afghanistan, continued the filmmaker. “The best revenge is to keep making movies.”
This article has been translated from German.