A Wind of Change in Kabul Cinemas
by Kaveh Daneshmand
This summer may very well have been one of the warmest seasons in our calendars so far, but for the lovers of cinema in Kabul, there is now a whole new heat approaching the city. This July marks the opening of I-Khanom Cinema; a place dedicated to arthouse cinema which opened its doors to the public with the premiere of Orphanage, the latest film by the prodigy of Afghan cinema, Shahrbanoo Sadat.
The Orphanage by Shahrbanoo Sadat (2019). Source: IMDb.com
The premiere of Orphanage in Kabul after its successful world premiere in Cannes earlier this year is a brilliant sign of progress in a country that has a very eventful film history. The encounter of Afghans with cinema dates back to 1923 when silent films were projected in public for the very first time. Since then, Afghan audiences passionately followed the stories of the silver screen until today, regardless of the turbulences that overshadowed the country periodically.
Until the late 60s when Afghan Film, the first state-run film organization was established in Kabul, majority of films in the cinemas were imported from India. It was only then that Afghan Film began to produce original films which saw the light of the screen, first as slots of shorts before Indian films and soon afterwards, in the form of feature films produced, written and directed by Afghan artists.
The first Afghan feature film produced by Afghan Film was Like an Eagle, a black and white film directed by Faiz Mohammad Khairzada in 1967. It is notable that this heritage of Afghan cinema was hidden in a wall when the Taliban regime took power in the 90s. It resurfaced in 2004 after the fall of the Taliban and was shown for the first time to the foreign audiences in Busan International Film Festival.
Like Eagle byFaiz Mohammad KHAIRZADA (2012). Source: BIFF.kr
Until the 80s, Afghanistan witnessed a sensible growth in its film industry with audiences spending a substantial part of their free time in the cinemas watching Afghan films, Indian productions and even Hollywood classics such as Gone with the Wind.
With the reign of the fundamentalist regimes in the 90s, Afghanistan experienced the darkest era of its film history when cinemas were closed down and watching films was banned across the country. Many artists fled the country and a large heritage of Afghan film history was destroyed.
However, after 2001 and the fall of the Taliban, once again, Afghan filmmakers such as Siddiq Barmak and Atiq Rahimi brought Afghan art to an international recognition and soon, cinemas began to reappear in the capital.
(1) Osama by Siddiq Barmak (2014) / (2) Terre et Cendres by Atiq Rahimi (2004). Source: Alchetron.com
These cinemas were, at first, a place mainly for men, who laughed, whistled and even danced with the films as they smoked in the screening halls throughout the films. As a result, it was an unusual sight to see women, families and children in these venues for many years.
Source: Kickstarter.com (The Forbidden Reel: A Journey Through the Cinemas of Kabul)
However, in the last 5 years, there have been significant attempts to overcome this situation; several cinemas with family-friendly atmospheres opened across the city, with dedicated screening hours for families and women. Once again, and after many decades, women find their way back to the screening halls and enjoy the art of cinema in front of the big screen.
The latest movie theatre reintroducing cinema-going to wider audiences in Afghanistan has been I-Khanom which opened its doors to the public with the participation of many renowned figures of Afghan cinema such as Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, who expressed her hope for the resurfacing of the cinema culture in Kabul.
In a land that is going through an eventual rise from the ashes of the turmoil that overshadowed its film industry for years, I-Khanom and similar concepts are indeed very meaningful and positive signs for the lovers of film and the magic of the silver screen.