French mission takes pix to Kabul

Selection to be presented at country's New Year's fete

This article was corrected on March 19, 2002.

PARIS — The Cinematheque Francaise is sending a mission to Afghanistan Tuesday armed with VHS cassettes of film classics.

Cinematheque director Peter Scarlet, an American who until last year ran the San Francisco Film Festival, selected pics from the org’s vast archives to bring to residents of war-torn Kabul in time for Norooz, the country’s New Year’s celebration, on March 21.

It is also the day the former Afghan king, Zaher Shah, returns to his country after a 29-year exile.

“One of our motivations was to bring films to people who have been deprived of images for over 10 years,” Scarlet said Sunday.

Scarlet’s initiative, a mission of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revives the French Consulate’s pre-Taliban position as Kabul’s only reliable source of movies from the West.

Chaplin, Keaton

Films include shorts by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Lumiere brothers and several international features such as Iranian Jafar Panahi’s 1995 Camera d’Or winner, “The White Balloon,” about a young girl’s search for a fat goldfish, for the Norooz celebration.

Scarlet chose this film to commemorate the return of girls to schools when they open Saturday. He is also bringing “La Grande Vadrouille,” the 1966 French comedy that held Gaul’s box office crown until it was bested by “Titanic.”

The German Occupation-set laffer, said Scarlet, “was extremely popular in Afghanistan, as were, I’m told, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ — people everywhere like to laugh.”

Plans to bring reels of film were scotched by baggage limits on U.N. flights — the only planes flying into Kabul — so Scarlet is bringing a video projector provided by the philanthropic Fondation de France, which he will leave behind, plus hand-culled tapes.

Screenings at theaters

He hopes to screen films in one of Kabul’s three recently reopened 600-seat movie theaters.

The Cinematheque’s efforts are supported by the Afghanistan interim government’s minister of information and culture, Sayed Raheen.

During his 10-day visit, Scarlet also plans to establish links with Afghans who ran the risk of hiding local films during the Taliban rule.

“We want to establish a relationship with Afghanistan that could eventually lead to an entire nation’s film heritage being preserved,” he said.

Scarlet’s trip was spearheaded by his wife, Katayoun Beglari, a 16-year vet of Voice of America’s Farsi service.

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