Karela Fry

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Neighbours

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Hard News reported a cultural event of significance:

The [First Autumn Human Rights Film Festival held in Kabul] opened with a 10-minute short, Accordion by the great Iranian director Jafar Panahi, recently sentenced by his government to six years in prison and banned from making films for 20 years because of his support for pro-democracy forces in Iran. Shadmehr Rastin, jury member from Iran, who was also the scriptwriter of Panahi’s Offside, said, “What Iran is doing with artists is similar to what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. By silencing him at a time when he is at the peak of his creative powers, they are killing Panahi’s art and talent.”

The festival, held simultaneously in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, was not without its anxious moments. The festival authorities faced pressure from the Iranian government to withdraw the Afghan feature film Neighbours, directed by Zubair Farghand. Scripted after extensive interviews with survivors, the film depicts the daily humiliations and brutalities faced by Afghan prisoners in an Iranian camp. The film was eventually screened under heavy security.

The greatest challenge for artists the world over is the growing opposition to creative freedom. Yet, young Afghans are showing great courage and determination in using the spaces available to them. Diverse films focusing on discrimination, injustice and violence drew full houses and enthusiastic discussions after the screenings.

Death to the Camera, directed by Sayed Qasem Hossaini, received the award for the Best Afghan Documentary. The film simultaneously weaves together various issues – labour, gender, ethnicity and aid – and also questions the medium of documentary itself. An employer accuses a woman of being a prostitute for appearing before the camera. An argument ensues off-camera; the woman returns to a group of co-workers to vent her grievances. A spirited exchange follows with accusations of ethnic discrimination against the bosses and cynicism about the current political situation. The camera crew eventually pulls away, taking us with them. Said Hossaini, “This retreat makes explicit the distance between the audience and the documentary subject. It also raises the question of mediation, central to this whole project: are we watching actuality or simply seeing something shaped and framed by those behind the lens?”

Around 15 policemen check all the cars that enter Kabul through Dehbori district. These men, selected from the various provinces of Afghanistan, stay together in three green containers with very basic accommodation facilities. Dehbori Check Point by Hamid Alizadeh follows these men through different times of the year. As they go about their work day and night, ensuring the city stays secure, we realise the city is actually indifferent to them.

Contrary to popular notions about Afghan conservatism, an increasing number of women are also picking up the camera and, unsurprisingly, they are turning towards women’s lives as the subject of their films. We Stars by young Afghan actress, Aqeela Rezai, is a searing documentation of the humiliation that she and other actresses face for their choice of profession, both from their families as well as their co-workers. Since it is unsafe for a woman to be living by herself in Kabul, Aqeela lives with her family and faces their scorn for being a working woman. “It is hard to be a woman making films, but even harder to be an actress,” she said. “In my film, I wanted to capture what I am experiencing right now as an artist.”

The film shared the third prize for Best Documentary with Half Value Life by Alka Sadat, about Marya Bashir, the first woman in Afghanistan to become a public prosecutor, who works for eliminating violence against women in the Herat province. It is a position of high responsibility that women are often considered incapable of occupying. Such is the resistance against her from criminals, mafia bands and narcotics smugglers that one day she returned to find her house has been blasted.

The surrounding report is worth reading in full.

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