Afghan film festival
Festival programmer Tony McKibbin looks at some of the most invigorating films on show at the first ever UK Afghan film festival
For exasperated introductions to the complexities of Afghanistan’s political situation it is difficult to beat Atiq Rahini’s (A)fghanistan: An Impossible State. Rahini simply allows the attending members of a loya jirga (political gathering) to explain the reality of democracy in their country (circa 2002). This film will be accompanied by a very rare screening of Richard Hardware Stanley’s ‘Voice of the Moon’, a short film poem about the landlocked south central Asian country.
Rahimi also made Earth and Ashes, adapted from his own novel. This lovely feature is light on dialogue but Rahimi better than anybody captures the country’s recent past. It’s a past that includes overbearing interference from close to home (Pakistan and Iran) and further afield – the Soviet Union and the US. Earth and Ashes is a contemplative take on what that history means for a young boy and his grandfather as they break the news to the boy’s father that members of the family have just died in a bombing.
If Rahimi is a filmmaker to watch, Siddiq Barmak is one whose work we already know. His 2003 feature Osama is the Dickensian tale of innovative drag acting from a time when Afghanistan had been bombed back into the Victorian age. Some of Barmak’s earlier work can also be seen in this festival’s Afghan Archive slot.
The festival aims at a mixture of fiction and documentaries, home-grown material and foreign takes on the country (including American and Russian perspectives on Afghanistan – Rambo III and The Ninth Company). Michael Winterbottom’s arduous road movie In This World shows a couple of young boys travelling from Afghanistan and trying to make their way to the UK, while Stray Dogs is Iranian director Marzieh Meshkini’s heavily symbolic tale of two kids whose parents have been imprisoned by opposing sides.
If all that sounds too bleak there’s The Beauty Academy of Kabul, a charming documentary exploring the return of beauty salons to the capital. Afghanistan may still in many ways be an impossible state, but it’s managing to create some remarkable possibilities in the world of film.