Afghanistan crops up in the news every day but there is little understanding outside of the country about the cultural scene there. The film industry has been developing steadily despite decades of war and turmoil. There are countless commercial productions but some less mainstream works too. Some of them have just been shown at the Afghan Film Festival in Cologne.
Afghanistan is not all about war: there are photographers and filmmakers too
One of the films being shown is "Patcha Khan" about a day in the life of a widower who lovingly looks after his four children. The protagonist does not correspond to the cliché of the patriarchal Afghan man.
The director of the Afghan film festival in Cologne Homeira Heydari explained why the film stood out: "I was fascinated by the fact that there existed male directors dealing with women's themes. And I was also moved by the fact that Afghan society has not become completely brutalised despite decades of war."
Whereas Iranian cinema has long received international acclaim and awards, the cinema scene next door in Afghanistan has mostly developed away from the world's attention.
Mirwais Rekab started out as a cameraman 20 years ago: "In Afghanistan, there are about 200 filmmakers. There's a kind of gold-digger mentality at the moment. Everyone wants to make commercial films. But hardly anyone is professional. They just want quick money."
Mirwais Rekab has presented a film about ethnic conflict in Cologne. His films are always inspired by the political changes taking place in his country and illustrate Afghanistan's turbulent history. The filmmaker recalls that cinema came under the full control of the government after the Soviets invaded but this did not stop him from being creative:
"There's no self-censorship with me. I make the films I think are right. But the sort of short film I make is never shown in Afghanistan. There isn't an audience for them yet."
Men and women
The typical Afghan cinema-goer prefers Bollywood films -- dancing, parties and, above all, relationships between men and women. Alka Sadat is a young documentary filmmaker who has devoted her films to this topic. "1,2,3" is showing in Cologne.
"It's a film about the three main problems affecting women. One, the marrying off of minors to old men. Two, self-immolation. And thirdly, women who are sent to Sharia courts because of family problems. Tribal elders often refused to give me permission to film."
The Afghan filmmakers in Cologne are in agreement when it comes to the Taliban. For six years, Afghans weren't allowed to listen to music. And films were considered an even greater sin.
Now they can make films without feeling threatened but none of them can live from their work yet. However, they are not that optimistic they will get the necessary funding any time soon.