Holding forth at a masterclass she delivered at the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Tabakalera venue on Tuesday Sept. 21, Shahrbanoo Sadat, the Afghan filmmaker whose body of work includes 2019 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight film “The Orphanage” and Cannes 2016 film “Wolf And Sheep,” dispelled some misconceptions about Afghan cinema and her country.
Fearing persecution like many fellow Afghan artists, the director had fled Kabul in August after the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country. She teared up when speaking about her father, a farmer, who had to flee Afghanistan with her just as harvest season was about to begin, just one of millions whose lives have been upended by the country’s collapse after 20 years under Western rule.
“I am ashamed to say that we produced few films in the past 20 years,” she said, adding that the most fertile period was from 2014 when a large withdrawal of U.S. troops then triggered a diaspora among the educated and artists. These self-exiled Afghan filmmakers began earning worldwide recognition with their films that screened at top film festivals.
According to Sadat, most of the films made in and about Afghanistan were outright propaganda during the Soviet regime and even during the U.S. occupation as NGOs, flush with funding, encouraged films about the resurgence of women’s rights, elections and other themes that put the new administration in a good light.
“They were very bad films, full of clichés and stereotypes and, tragically, were deemed as points of reference about Afghanistan by both the local and international community,” she pointed out.
She is hopeful that exiled Afghan filmmakers like herself will offer a new and fresh perspective of their country, shaped by their new life experiences in Europe and elsewhere. “I hope for a new wave of Afghan cinema in the next 10, 15 years,” she mused.
Meanwhile, she has been working on a romantic comedy over the past two years, which she was hoping to finish next year. “It features the first kiss in Afghan film history,” she exclaimed. It is set in a TV station, where Sadat also got her first job, where her lead character is working on a cooking show, despite her distaste for cooking, and aspires to work in news. She gets a break to work with the TV station’s star news reporter and a romance sparks between them. “It’s not a cheap comedy, in fact it’s a very political film,” she said. “For the first time it shows Afghanistan in a rosy pink light because we need hope, we need to laugh, we need color,” she concluded.