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Culture

Afghan Film Makers at the Berlinale Talent Campus

DW-TV and the International Film Festival invited three young female documentary film makers to Berlin to participate in workshops with accomplished colleagues.

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"Afghanistan: Film, Freedom, Future“ was the panel's topic.

It took six long weeks of wrestling with the Afghan authorities to get visas and exit permits for the three film makers. Gul Makai Ranjbar, Halima Hussiani and Shakeba Adill had a hard time getting to Germany and the Berlinale Talent Campus.

Although they had the support of international television broadcaster DW-TV and the German foreign ministry, it became increasingly doubtful whether they would be able to make the journey at all. To cap it all off, the weather almost put an end to their plans. The Bundeswehr plane that was to bring the three young women safely to Germany had to leave a day earlier than planned.

From the airport in Berlin, Gul Makai, Halima and Shakeba had to go straight to the "Afghanistan: Film, Freedom, Future" event at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt the House of World Cultures, which took place last Sunday.

After finally arriving, they told the young audience at the Talent Campus about their work and lives in one of the poorest and most crisis-ridden countries in the world. They also presented excerpts from two of their films.

Dressed in jeans, sweaters and leather jackets, only their heads covered with the traditional hijab or headscarf, the women sat on the podium while talking about their work to Iranian writer, documentary film maker and Afghanistan expert, Siba Shakib, who hosted the discussion and acted as their interpreter.

Siba Shakib presented the AÏNA media center in her introduction. Independent from the government, AÏNA is an Afghan-French project that has been running for two years and has built up a network of independent journalists and media in Afghanistan. Gul Makai, Halima and Shakeba were trained through AÏNA and are now, with the aid of the organisation, producing their own films.

"Afghanistan Unveiled"

Gul Makai, who is 22-years-old, said that she had never known a life without war. Her father and brothers are dead, and even as a young girl she had to work to feed the family, despite having an injured leg.

Hard as this life may seem, it's all too common in Afghanistan. Apart from depicting the years of war against the Russians, the three film makers concentrated on the reign of terror carried out by the radical Islamic Taliban. The six years of their dictatorship were known to have been especially cruel for Afghanistan's female population.

The film makers travelled to the Afghan countryside to make their documentary film "Afghanistan Unveiled". It was probably the first time that women had travelled into the rural provinces alone. They talked to women about their life and their experiences under the Taliban. Whether they were female nomads with machine guns in their tents, or cave dwellers in the Bamian valley, where the Taliban destroyed the giant statues of Buddha, their stories are very similar. They deal with murder, rape and destruction, with unimaginable violence and contempt for the people, especially the women.

The young film makers found filming an intense and disturbing experience. During their courageous work, they learned much about their own country and its inhabitants. Afghanistan is a country full of cultural variety, they saidl. The desolate countryside and harsh climate make basic living conditions very difficult for its people.

Critiquing the new Afghanistan

Another important subject is the period since the end of the Taliban regime. Life in Afghanistan is still far from any kind of normality. A critical view of the situation is presented in the women's second film, "Shadows", the sequel to "Afghanistan Unveiled". While Kabul University prefers to enroll students with money and the right contacts, in the provinces, women and girls are still being abducted and raped. There is a considerable amount of work left before there is real freedom of expression and the press.

All the same, Gul Makai, Halima and Shakeba say that there have been great improvements in the direction of freedom. What people in Afghanistan need most for social change after such a long period of destructive chaos is time. The presence of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, and the Americans is necessary at the moment to ensure relative calm in the country. In the long term, the Afghans would like to develop their future identity free from external influences.

Gul Makai, Halima and Shakeba are sure that their informative films will contribute to bringing about change in Afghanistan. The strength and intelligence, the involvement and self-confidence of these three young women provides hope for the future of their country.

At the end of the discussion, Günter Knabe, Deutsche Welle's Afghanistan expert, spoke about "Afghanistan: Film, Freedom, Future" as a representative of the international broadcaster and organiser of the event. He introduced the audience to DW-TV's Afghan program which broadcasts daily in Dari and Pashtu, and the donation campaign: "100 Classrooms for Afghanistan" which was sponsored by the aid organisation Cap Anamur and Deutsche Welle. DW-TV's culture department is sponsoring the Afghan film makers visit to Berlin.

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