Post-Taliban production rebounds

Afghan Film Studios seeks to restore classic films

KABUL — This time last year, Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film “Kandahar” was one of the few points of reference for politicians and public alike seeking insight into Afghanistan.

A year later, Makhmalbaf is about to produce one of the country’s first post-Taliban productions in director Siddik Barmak’s “Rainbow,”the tale of a young girl who dreams of becoming a boy in the belief it will make her life easier under the harsh Taliban regime.

“She doesn’t realize that life is just as difficult for boys,” Barmak says.

Barmak, who will shoot the film with non-professional child actors, hopes it will be ready in time to premiere on the Afghan New Year next March. The film’s modest $110,000 budget is being put up by the Makhmalbaf Film House.

“Rainbow” is among a handful of Afghan films being developed less than a year after the Taliban was ousted from power.

Pics include Paris-based, Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi’s adaptation of his novel “Earth and Ashes,” due to shoot before the onset of winter, and an untitled feature by once prolific director Temor Hakimiar about a spate of real-life child abductions on Kabul.

Hakimiar, who spent most of the Taliban rule in hiding, is directing and producing the film through his Shahfaq Film production house.

“Shahfaq means sun,” Hakimiar says. “The company has been around for 22 years, although its activities were stopped under the Taliban. There used to be more than a dozen film companies working out of Kabul,” he adds. Hakimiar’s previous work, a social drama entitled “Gherab” (Vortex), was one of the last films to be shot in Kabul prior to Taliban rule in 1996. During one of the final shoots, a shell fell on the set killing seven crew members. It was the last film Hakimiar would make for six years.

“Taliban forces had surrounded Kabul. When they finally took the city, they banned filmmaking and destroyed our equipment,” says Hakimiar who hid the film in a wardrobe in his home to prevent its destruction.

“Gherab” was among a handful of works screened as part of the Locarno Film Festival’s Afghan Film Day in August, featuring a clutch of pre-Taliban works alongside documentaries shot after their rule.

The selection also included Barmak’s tale of a heroic Mujahedeen fighter “Uraj” (Ascension), which he directed with Noor Hashem Abir. There was a near riot when the film screened in Kabul’s hastily reopened Bakhatar cinema just days after the capital’s liberation, as eager spectators fought to be admitted.

Ironically, given “Uraj’s” anti-Russian rhetoric, Barmak is the product of the Moscow Film School. “I don’t think there is anything strange about that; a lot of Russian intellectuals were also against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan,” Barmak comments.

Barmak spent most of the Taliban’s reign in Pakistan. Throughout this period, he made occasional forays into the north of the country to shoot the activities of the rebel Northern Alliance.

The director is also the new head of the state-owned Afghan Film Studios that houses the national film archives, most of which were destroyed by the Taliban. He is hoping to rebuild them with the help of other archives around the world.

“The Taliban destroyed some 2,700 films, many of them international titles,” says Barmak. “The Intl. Federation of Film Archives recently welcomed us as a member, and we have received a number of pledges of support.”

A handful of films were saved by studio employees who stashed reels in their homes, but many of these films are in a poor condition.

“There are a number of black and white classics such as ‘The Love Servant’ which I would love to have restored,” Hakimiar says. “Unfortunately they haven’t been kept in the best condition. It remains to be seen what can be done.”

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