1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
 Sahraa Karimi at Venice Film Festival
Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi, 36, is among those who called for support for Afghanistan in VeniceImage: Maria Laura Antonelli/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

Afghan director to create film about her escape

Scott Roxborough
September 7, 2021

"Filmmakers do not realize their power. If they raise their voices in solidarity for the people of Afghanistan... it will work," Afghan director Sahraa Karimi told DW. She plans to turn her flight from Kabul into a film.


In Venice, far from Kabul and the Taliban, Afghan directors are calling on the international film community to show solidarity with those under threat in their native country.

Sahraa Karimi, the first female president of the Afghan Film Organization, spoke with DW at the Venice International Film Festival, where she has come to raise the alarm and to make sure the world does not forget her country and her people.

Before the Taliban conquered the Afghan capital of Kabul on August 15, effectively seizing control of the entire country, Karimi was busy on her second feature film, a follow-up to her social drama Hava, Maryam, Ayesha, which premiered in Venice in 2019. She was also overseeing the entire Afghan Film Organization, which had features, documentaries and several short films in production as it tried to rebuild a movie industry in the country.

Under the Taliban's rule from 1996-2001, all cinema, like all forms of art, were banned.

"Just imagine, I was in the middle of production on my second film," Karimi told DW about her experiences on August 15 when the Taliban entered Kabul. "It was a normal, ordinary day. Everything was normal. And then, within a few hours, everything collapsed."

An evacuee at the Kabul Airport holds up a peace sign.
Afghan directors called for international support for Afghans trying to leave the countryImage: 1ST LT. MARK ANDRIES/UPI/imago images

A difficult journey

Karimi made a harrowing escape, running through the streets of Kabul to get home, gather her family and try to make it to the airport to fly out of the country. But their flight was canceled. With the help of the Slovak, Turkish, and Ukrainian governments — Karimi, who studied cinema in Bratislava, holds Slovak citizenship — she was able to get out on August 17, taking a Turkish Airlines flight from Kabul to Istanbul and then to Kyiv.

Karimi is now planning to turn her experience into a fiction film.

"I'm a filmmaker. The only way, at least for a while, to forget this trauma that I experienced is to write it and to make it into a film," she said, adding that she hopes her story will give a different perspective on the events than seen in the news media.

"People only saw the bigger story, of the crowds. But there were many individual stories in those crowds, stories I saw myself, that I experienced," Karimi said. "The response of the American army, which was very bad, the desperation of people who grabbed the wheel of airplanes as they tried to lift off. I will tell their stories. My film will look at what happened from different sides."

The power of the international film community

But Karimi isn't in Venice just to tell her story. In a panel discussion on Afghanistan in Venice on September 5, she and Afghan documentary filmmaker Sahra Mani called for action from the international film community.

Karimi wants international film organizations, including the European Film Academy, to pressure national governments to create humanitarian corridors to help get artists and others who want to leave out of the country, as well as a guarantee that they will be granted the status of political refugees.

"The international film community doesn't realize the power they have," she told DW. "People love actors and actresses and filmmakers. People love cinema. They can be very strong voices for solidarity with Afghan filmmakers and Afghanistan. If they decide to be the voice for Afghanistan and to protect Afghanistan — Afghan women, Afghan filmmakers — it will work."

A portrait of Sahraa Karimi.
Karimi called on the international film community for solidarity with Afghanistan before escaping the countryImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Karimi praised countries like Ukraine, which have stepped up to grant escaping Afghans visas and travel documents. She called out other European countries, including Germany, which have been more hesitant. 

"What happened in Afghanistan happened. There are a lot of refugees, not just filmmakers and artists but other refugees. I think countries like Germany should show solidarity with these people, especially with artists and filmmakers. They should not just ignore them [but] accept them," she said.

"They do not need to be afraid. Artists and filmmakers integrate easily into a society and they bring with them their creativity, their stories, which can enrich the culture of their new country."

Skip next section Explore more