Today, Pune will host its first film festival focused solely on Afghanistan. The festival will screen around twenty splendid films made in Afghanistan — by Afghani directors as well as foreigners — many of them are critically acclaimed and have won international awards including some Oscar nominations.The festival will open with the screening of the film Opium War in the presence of the Afghani filmmaker Siddiq Barmak and the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to India, HE Shaida Mohammad Abdali.
Given the turbulent changes that Afghanistan went through over the last twenty years, the significance of such a festival cannot be undermined. When the Taliban came to power in 1996, they clamped down on cinema. Many directors and technicians fled abroad. Cinema, began to revive slowly, only after the defeat of the Taliban regime in 2001. And it’s only recently that a degree of artistic freedom has returned, and cinema is blossoming once again in Afghanistan.
Prashant Girbane, director, Pune International Center, which has organised the festival along with National Film Archive of India, says, “The human interest stories are new and need to be shown and talked about. They were suppressed for a long time and now, they need to be given a space to tell their problems.”
The festival focuses on Afghani directors such as Siddiq Barmak, Atiq Rahimi and female director Roya Sadat, who have created a new face of Afghan cinema with films such as Osama, Earth and Ashes, and Three Dots as well as Western-produced films like The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan, Oscar-nominated Buzkashi Boys and The Kite Runner among others.
There has also been a growing interest in cinema among young Afghans, who are rebuilding their film industry by learning the trade on their own without any foreign money. Some of them being the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit organisation, provides hands-on training for Afghans; the Jump Cut Cinematic Group comprises individuals who have tried to retain their artistic autonomy and break stereotypes through their films, the Ateliers Varan project initiated jointly by the French Cultural Centre and the Goethe Institute trains documentary filmmakers in screenwriting, camera work and editing.
The festival brings together films in all these categories to provide a broad picture of cinematic activity and of the road ahead in Afghanistan — a country with bonds of friendship with India for centuries. Above all, they reflect the filmmakers’ open-mindedness and longing for peace, and are a proof of the sensitivity, intelligence and yearning of a generation that has seen war for the better part of its life.