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After bowing at Venice where it was nominated for the Horizons Award, “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” has its Asian premiere at the Busan International Film Festival. Directed by debutante Sahraa Karimi, it plays in the ‘A Window On Asian Cinema’ strand.

The film is a rarity in that it is an Afghan film made by an Afghani woman in Afghanistan, using local talent. The powerhouse behind the film is producer Katayoon Shahabi, who produced through her Paris and Tehran based outfit Noori Pictures.

Through Sheherazad Media International from 2001, and then with Noori from 2011, Shahabi has been championing the cause of Afghan and Iranian cinema. She served on the Cannes competition jury in 2016.

Noori’s recent successes include Vahid Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature” which won multiple awards at Venice, Las Palmas, Bratislava, Fajr, Stockholm, Thessaloniki and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2017; and Jamshid Mahmoudi’s “Rona, Azim’s Mother” which collected prizes at Vesoul, Gothenburg, and the Kim Ji-Seok award at Busan in 2018. It was Afghanistan’s entry to the Oscars.

“Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” is Afghanistan’s entry to the 2019-20 Oscars. “The women of the film are like many women in my country,” Shahabi told Variety. “Hava, a traditional woman who has accepted her fate to be a good housewife for her family-in-law and being a mother. Maryam is a modern woman, trying to regard herself as the most important person in her marital life, contrary to Afghanistan traditions in which women are regarded at the lower rank. Ayesha, is a young girl whose situation obliged her to forget her dream and accept the reality of the life and rules that were imposed on her. All of these women are familiar to me, especially that all of them decided for the first time in their life to take their destiny in their own hands. I cross them in my daily life but they are invisible and lonely.”

While the festival route for the film is easy enough, Shahabi has other plans for the film. “We have many requests for festivals from all over the world, but our goal is as many people as possible see the film through theatrical exhibition and video platforms,” she says. “It is important to show the real life of Afghans to the world, especially women’s lives. Afghanistan must have an image worldwide through cinema.”

Shahabi’s criteria for choosing projects is simple. She boards only independent films and she chooses largely talented young filmmakers making their first or second films. “A film must move me and be honest,” Shahabi says. “Despite being chosen by my personal taste, I am very happy that my films can be appreciated among festivals and public.”

Despite the efforts of companies like Noori, cinema in Afghanistan remains at a nascent stage. “There is no infrastructure of cinema in Afghanistan, only three functional cinemas exist,” says Shahabi.” So, the first step is to build more cinemas in order that Afghan people discover films and public to be interested in going to cinemas, create centers and institutes to teach cinema, and hold festivals to show films from other countries. The new generation of Afghan filmmakers who have traveled around the world or grown up and studied outside the country and returned to  make films, will attract a lot of attention, both now and in the future.”

Next up from Noori is Karimi’s second film, the first feature of another young director Mahmoud Rahmani, “I’m Scared,” the new film by Behnam Behzadi whose previous film “Inversion” was at the Un Certain Regard segment of Cannes, and Loghman Khaledi’s documentary “Goodbye Party.”