Movies & TV

Afghanistan becoming ‘country without artists’ exiled directors warn Venice

Afghan directors Sahraa Karimi and Sarah Mani attend a photocall following an 'International Panel On Afghanistan And The Situation Of Afghan Filmmakers And Artists', during the 78th Venice Film Festival, September 4, 2021. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP)

VENICE: There was moving testimony from Afghan filmmakers at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, as two female directors warned against trusting the Taliban’s promises.

“In just two weeks, the most brilliant elements have left the country, at least those who were able,” prize-winning 38-year-old director Sahraa Karimi told reporters at the festival Saturday. “Imagine a country without artists.”

She said the Afghan film industry had entirely stopped “in the space of a few hours” after last month’s sudden takeover by the Taliban in the wake of the US military’s withdrawal.

“The archives are now under the control of the Taliban,” she said. “The work of directors vanished in a few hours. Some were able to leave with their computers, others with nothing at all.”

“This collapse meant we lost everything,” added Sahra Mani, known for “A Thousand Girls Like Me”, a documentary about victims of incest.

With a timid but determined air, Mani used the example of Kabul’s only mixed music school.

“The Taliban are now occupying the building,” she said on the verge of tears. “They have destroyed the students’ instruments and the students are in hiding.”

Mina, who became the first head of the Afghan Film Organisation in 2019, spoke of her personal escape on August 15.

“I started my day normally, and several hours later I had to take the hardest decision in my life: to stay or leave the country. We are actors, directors, producers, we are not politicians. We just want to realise our dreams.”

She described her fellow exiles as “ambassadors of Afghan identity”, and warned against trusting the Taliban. “Not only are they more cruel, they are wiser due to their use of technology.”

“We can only be saved by the international community,” added Mani. “Help us! We need hope. Please be our voices and speak about our situation.”

The pair were joined at Venice by members of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), which was formed at last year’s festival to help artists from countries in turmoil such as Myanmar.

Today in Afghanistan, “the status of artist puts you in danger, you’re at the top of the list,” said Orwa Nyrabia, the Syrian head of the International Festival of Documentary Film in Amsterdam. “We all have an interest in saving them. it’s in our interest.”

 

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