Watch Afghans Bollywood films

Cinema in Kabul

Michael Koehler: In the worst suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul since the fall of the radical Islamic Taliban a good six years ago, more than 20 people were killed last Sunday. An assassin blew himself up on a police bus. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, which was believed to be an attempt to prevent Western experts from training Afghan police. Such are the reports that we get to read every day when it comes to Afghanistan or Kabul. Kabul is the capital, largest city of Afghanistan with about three million inhabitants. In the midst of these circumstances there is now an Afghan film festival. And I asked my colleague Martin Gerner in Kabul about the conditions, where something like this takes place, and under what conditions. So how do I have to imagine it outwardly?

Martin Gerner: The main town is the French cultural institute, which is also close to the Goethe-Institut. Both are alignments of the whole. There are about four to five hundred people interested in education and culture who attend such events - film festivals and theater festivals, which are held here in August. The community of those who visit such cultural events, so to speak, is very limited, and the films here are from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, but mostly from Afghanistan, which is very special because the problems here are really huge, started cameras and budgets that are difficult to manage for most of the people here. Perhaps a word about the locations you just asked about: You can't hold this festival in normal cinemas here, that's for security reasons. There are about half a dozen cinemas here in Kabul, there are Bollywood films showing, the masses want to see them, and security there is also very limited, just because there are criminals there too, people who are unemployed. And in this respect, the cultural institutes or the university in which it takes place are comparatively safe.

Charcoal burner: You have already indicated that Afghanistan is a mountainous country, a multiethnic state with supply problems, with educational problems. The film festival seems to be something for the more educated classes. What is being shown there, and above all, is what is being shown explosive?

Gladly: Yes, I was above all surprised that in the 18 or so Afghan films, the Afghan reality is shown, that is, forced marriage, that is, problems with electricity and water, that is, still the law of the gun instead of the law of education and Pencil. There are also films that address the difficulties of securing education in the province in the long term, all of which are very critical, not at all romantic. What surprised me was that the presence of the many aid workers here, tens of thousands of whom are in Kabul, as well as the war against the Taliban, and the presence of ISAF in general, are not featured in the films by the military. And I asked why that is. And the answer I got was, well, you have a little hard time or you don't want to deny yourself good relationships with foreign sources of money. The organizations, whether this is UNESCO, whether this is the International Organization for Human Rights, they are in part donors for films, which then always have a certain advertising effect. The Afghan filmmakers are not always happy about that, but they just go along with the game. And then there was a movie where a foreigner came up briefly. It was a German, and a merciless German at that, portrayed in a feature film with a wide coat and a Hanseatic cap. He witnesses a murder in this film. So a merciless German - the question is how seriously you have to take this as pars pro toto - but maybe as a small excerpt.

Charcoal burner: One last thing, Mr. Gerner: Would you agree if someone said it was a small step on the way to cultural normality?

Gladly: Absolutely, absolutely. It was very positive for me to see how many new young filmmakers are now making films compared to the last two years when I was here, including many women. I have asked a number of times how it is, because more often you see very young women in Afghan films, i.e. girls, and you see older women, but you don't see women between the ages of 20 and 30. In any case, that has always been a problem so far. I asked, has anything changed? And it was said, yes, it is now easier for women of this age to play or to find them as actresses, mostly amateur actors. That is something positive, which I think contrasts clearly with what we generally have of Afghanistan at the moment. I would like to say that Kabul is a city where security is still a big problem, like the rest of Afghanistan. But war is not the right word to describe Kabul and many provinces. And many films are also possible in this environment. What is missing, chronically, are cameras, are financing options. It is also the case in Kabul that there are still a lot of organizations - Afghan, international - there, over 3000, who do not know about each other. That said, I suspect that money is there to support filmmakers, but that networking is not as effective as it could be.