Roya Sadat needs a champion. Her film, “A Letter to the President,” is Afghanistan’s contender in Oscar’s foreign language film category, but the production just does not have the resources to mount an Oscar campaign.
“It is difficult for us, because we still haven’t finished paying for the film,” says Sadat. The film world premiered at Locarno in August where Hong Kong based Asian Shadows signed on for international sales.
“A Letter to the President,” a social drama that follows a woman on death row who writes to the Afghanistan president explaining the societal reasons that led her to murder her husband, is playing in the Busan Film Festival’s A Window on Asian Cinema section.
Sadat grew up in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, meaning that she was confined to her home and could not go to school. She discovered cinema through a book and became fascinated by the medium. She used her time at home to write plays and drafts of a screenplay that eventually became her 2003 crime drama “Three Dots.”
Sadat’s first act after the Taliban regime departed in 2001 was to begin shooting “Three Dots” (2003), set in her native city of Herat. The film travelled to global festivals including Three Continents in Nantes and the Bangkok Film Festival, and along with Sidik Barmak’s “Osama” (2003), which won a Golden Globe, and put Afghanistan on the world cinema map.
Upon completion of “Three Dots” she studied law and politics at university. Subsequently, along with her sister Alka, Roya set up Roya Film House, Afghanistan’s first women-run film company. The company financed itself producing television dramas for the Tolo TV channel.
Sadat’s next project, “The Warm Bread and the Nipple’s Circle,” a drama about rape and its aftermath, was accepted into Busan’s Asian Project Market in 2009 and eventually went to the Goa Film Bazaar in 2013. A producer came on board but bailed in 2015, citing Afghanistan’s security situation and lack of insurance.
With “A Letter to the President,” Sadat was determined to improve her country’s almost non-existent cinema production infrastructure. Most of the cast and crew worked for little or nothing and the $200,000 budget was spent largely on modern shooting and post-production equipment that the country lacked.
But the biggest problem Sadat faces is her gender. “The Taliban are against women, against human rights and against democracy,” says Sadat. “During the Taliban years, many people became Talibanized. Those people are still living in Afghanistan now. So it is not very comfortable for women, especially those who work in the media.
“When you are talking about films, it is not easy for men even because there is no support from the government,” says Sadat. She says that the government is too busy with political matters to bother about culture.
“But Afghanistanis need to tell their stories to the world,” Sadat continues. “’A Letter to the President’ tries to do this. But it’s not easy.”