Afghanistan’s film scene booms

TV stations giving young filmmakers a chance

Hollywood’s “The Kite Runner” may be the film that puts Afghanistan in the spotlight, but the country’s own filmmakers are making a big splash of their own, often against daunting odds.

Oscar-nominated Afghan helmer Siddiq Barmak is busy editing “Opium War,” the follow-up to his 2003 debut “Osama.” Pic tells the story of two American soldiers lost in Afghanistan who come across a family living in a tank. Also looming: Horace Shansab‘s “Zolkhya’s Secret,” an ultralow-budget pic about a rural Afghan family’s struggles to survive during the final days of the Taliban, and “The Man From Kabul” from Atiq Rahimi, whose “Earth and Ashes” received a special mention at Cannes in 2004.

“There is a lot of activity in Afghanistan at the moment,” says Barmak from his Kabul editing suite. “A lot of TV channels here are offering young Afghan filmmakers a good beginning to make TV series and digitally shot films. A lot of people here believe in cinema now, so it was not as difficult this time around as back in 2002 and 2003.”

“Difficult” is, of course, relative.

Barmak’s pic was delayed a year after his specially grown poppy fields — for which he had to receive a permit from the Afghan government since growing poppies is illegal in the country — were destroyed due to adverse weather. Rahimi’s shoot was delayed after his set was damaged by monsoons. He hopes to resume filming by the end of the year.

News last week that Paramount Vantage will hold back the release of “Kite Runner” until Dec. 14 so execs can arrange a safe haven in the United Arab Emirates for the boys who star in the film, rekindles fears of sectarian strife in Afghanistan.

In January, Bollywood pic “Kabul Express” sparked an outcry from Hazara tribal leaders after the pic — which lensed in Afghanistan and tells story of two Indian journos who come to Kabul to cover the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001 — accused the Hazaras of being “the most dangerous tribe of Afghanistan.”

The Afghan Information and Culture Ministry banned “Kabul Express” from being exhibited or sold, and execs at Afghan TV imposed a 72-hour ban on Indian pics and songs, which are hugely popular in Afghanistan.

Such hurdles pale compared to what Iranian helmer Samira Makhmalbaf faced while lensing “The Two-Legged Horse” in Afghanistan: A March 27 bomb bombing came close to killing the helmer and her family.

With “Kite Runner” on the horizon and their own works nearing completion, Afghanistan’s filmmakers are eager to make a connection to the world at large.

Says Barmak: “I’m sure that ‘The Kite Runner’ will help make Afghanistan a center of attention again. After the invasion in 2002, a lot of people forgot about the country. I hope cinema can be a bridge to connect Afghanistan to the world.”