“Habibullah Habib works on restoring a film in his office. The archivists see restoring these films to their original condition as a crucial service to their country,” Source: The Washington Post, Photo: Kiana Hayeri/FTWP

Celebrating Afghanistan’s 100th Year of Independence Through Film

by Marisa Sittheeamorn

On August 19th, 2019, Afghanistan celebrated its hundredth year of independence from the British rule. While some took to the streets to celebrate, others found themselves in the dark screening halls across Kabul, attending the Afghanistan Film Festival. Sahraa Karimi, the head of the state-owned Afghan Film, spearheaded the festival hoping it would jump-start Afghan cinema.

Tied to its political history, Afghan cinema has endured a rich yet complicated past. During the rule of the Taliban between 1996 and 2001, music and moving images were banned. Afghan Film, which was established in the sixties to oversee film production across the country, realized the implications of the Taliban’s perspective. In an attempt to protect the organization’s national archive, several dedicated employees risked their lives to preserve the country’s cinematic record. Unfortunately, when militants stormed the headquarters, much of what they found was burned, and lost forever. The films that were miraculously saved, however faced damages and neglect as the country began to restore itself.

“Habibullah Habib is helping to restore, digitize and archive the reels. He helped hide the films when the Taliban took control over the government in Kabul in 1996,” Source: The Washington Post, Photo:Kiana

In the years since then, Afghan Film has invested time and resources into conserving and digitizing the films that were lost, and rebuilding the country’s cinematic culture that previously existed. To many longtime employees of Afghan Film, such as Sultan Mohammad Istalifi, the archive is the identity of the country that must be preserved. Without it, the identity of a country is lost. Elite film archivists have continued to compile and digitize over a century’s worth of films from the pre-Taliban era, and emerging filmmakers, such as Shahrbanoo Sadat, are becoming the fresh faces of Afghan cinema known to cinephiles around the world.

Contrary to a gentleman club-like destination that movie theatres were bred to be after the fall of the Taliban, the rise of independent theatres dedicated to art house cinema, such as I-Khanom Cinema, and dedicated screening hours for women and children, have revitalized the culture of cinema-going into a popular and family-friendly affair. The Afghan Film industry, while somewhat quiet to the rest of the world, has a strong foundation steeped in history that continues to rewrite itself every single day.

Still from Parting (Navid Mahmoudi, 2016), Source: DreamLab Films

For those of us peering into the constantly transforming world of Afghan film, it is to no surprise that the country has reached a moment where film has become a mode of celebration among the masses. In commemoration of their hundred years of independence, the festival screened a hundred films over the course of eight days. A majority of the films in selection were those preserved from the archives, allowing Afghan audiences to reconnect with their national identity. Notable classics such as De Koso Sahardan (Wandering Alleys) and Hamasa Ishq (Epic Love) were paired with more contemporary films like A Few Cubic Meters of Love (Jamshid Mahmoudi, 2014) and Parting (Navid Mahmoudi, 2016), both of which gained critical acclaim along the festival circuit.

As the culture of public film consumption, and number of events like the Afghanistan Film Festival continues to grow, there is no limit on the amount of talented filmmakers that can make a splash in the international scene. The success of the festival was Sahraa Karimi’s “first dream come true,” and is a piece of the puzzle of “struggle that Afghanistan must endure to create new vision of cinema,” shares Karimi.

FCC congratulates Afghan Film on their impressive successes, and looks forward to seeing a second edition of the festival in the near future! Here’s to seeing more Afghan films along the international circuit.

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