What’s the future of Afghan filmmaking?
Many have spoken out on the Afghan situation, including Cannes-winning Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat, who won the Directors’ Fortnight prize in 2016.
As the shock of the Taliban’s swift seizure of complete power in Afghanistan stills reverberates around the world following the hardline extremist group’s dramatic capture of the capital Kabul on Aug. 15, concern and conversations have now begun turning to what the future holds for the country.
Despite recent attempts at assurances by the Taliban that they don’t want any “internal or external enemies,” very few people appear to be in any doubt that life for millions of Afghans — especially women — who aren’t among the thousands to have already fled has irrevocably changed for the worse.
Much is still unknown, especially with the Taliban being far more concerned with their public image than they were in the 1990s, but on the cultural and filmmaking front, there remains little hope of any of the progress that has been made over the last two decades remaining intact, with potential harsh dangers for those involved.
This was highlighted in a powerful statement posted online as the Taliban entered Kabul by Sahraa Karimi, the Afghan filmmaker and general director of the country’s national film company Afghan Film, who warned that the new rulers would impose a strictly Islamic state on Afghanistan and could seek to punish artists.
“I write to you with a broken heart and a deep hope that you can join me in protecting my beautiful people, especially filmmakers, from the Taliban,” she wrote. “They have massacred our people, they kidnapped many children, they sold girls as child brides to their men. … It’s a humanitarian crisis, and yet the world is silent. … They will ban all art. I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list.”
Shahrbanoo Sadat describes the nightmarish situation she currently faces as she tries to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with her family, and how current events have already impacted her future filmmaking plans.
Sadat, who won the top Directors’ Fortnight award in Cannes for her first feature, the rural Afghanistan-set “Wolf and Sheep”, in 2016 – Hungary was also there with three films, a feature film which won Cinéfondation third prize, a short film, and another feature film which was screened out of the competition – returned three years later with her well-received follow up “The Orphanage”.
She described the nightmarish situation she faces as she waits for news on whether she will be able to fly out from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where there were scenes of chaos on Monday as hundreds of people stormed the runway trying to find a way onto a departing plane. The exodus follows the fall of Kabul to the Taliban over the weekend.
“The problem is actually how to get to the airport and how to find the plane,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The first checkpoint at the very first entry of the airport is under the control of the Taliban. And there are so many checkpoints on the way to the airport.”
Sadat says that to get through she needs to have a letter with the exact details of the flight and confirmation that all the people she is traveling with have seats, but the current chaotic situation meant that the airlines hadn’t been able to provide any of this information.
“I think it’s important for us in Afghanistan to know at least the history of the last 100 years because nobody here is reading books,” she says. “You can make films and learn from the past, and we can understand our position in Afghanistan and other countries [involved in] Afghanistan. Knowing history is our one hope for Afghanistan in the future.”
Despite her precarious situation and the anger she says she feels, Sadat says she will look to channel her emotions into her future work. “I suppose if there’s one good thing from all this mess, it’s the energy created from the anger because people can do things,” she said. “I can make films, others can write, other people can organize. There’s so much of this energy and we have to do something with it.”
Right now, however, Sadat’s focus is on getting the flight information and leaving Afghanistan. She hasn’t had a chance to consider her final destination. “At the moment the most important thing is to get to the airport and to get out.”