Inside Move: Afghan appetite

'Kandahar' interest fueled by conflict

Long lines for the world-premiere engagement of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Kandahar” indicate that despite saturation coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan, Italian moviegoers remain hungry for insight into the Taliban regime.

And as distribs bump up release dates for the pic, which world premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May, audiences in other key territories will soon be given the same opportunity.

Released in Italy on Oct. 12 by arthouse outfit BIM on 24 screens, the poetic but hardhitting drama about oppression in contemporary Afghanistan has drawn unprecedented attention for an Iranian film, scoring Italy’s highest screen average, $11,198, during its opening week.

On a per-engagement basis, that’s way ahead of leading freshman “Scary Movie 2” or holdovers like “Swordfish,” “A.I.” and “Moulin Rouge.”

The release widened Oct. 19 to 100 screens, affording it a virtually unheard of profile for this type of art fare.

“There’s no doubt that this film will dwarf the results of any other Iranian film ever released in Italy,” BIM chief Valerio De Paolis told Variety. “If it continues at its current pace, we’re on track to go as high as 7 billion to 8 billion lire ($3.5 million-$4 million).”

Italian arthouse audiences are no strangers to Iranian cinema. But even the biggest of these films, such as Jafar Panahi’s 2000 Venice fest Golden Lion winner “The Circle,” failed to reach $1 million. With a first-week total of almost $400,000 on limited release, “Kandahar” now appears certain to eclipse that number.

“The subject of this movie is so relevant right now that people everywhere are extremely interested,” says De Paolis.

Sales exec Vincent Maraval of StudioCanal’s cutting-edge arm Wild Bunch, which is selling the film internationally, reports that most territories are rushing the release onto screens. “Kandahar” will open this month in France, Belgium and Switzerland, then in November in Spain and the U.K.

New York-based arthouse distrib Avatar Films, which first made an offer at the Toronto film fest, locked in a deal for U.S. rights last week. It plans to open “Kandahar” early next year.

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