Interaction with Afghan filmmakers Javed Taiman, Alka Sadat, Mohammed Hassani At MIFF 2012
Javed Taiman made his first film on women and children drug addicts in Afghanistan. The film has been to several festivals in the west and has earned quite a reputation. The topic surprised many because the West hitherto looked on Afghanistan as the conduit for drug trafficking. No one thought that Afghanistan would also be affected by this terrible problem. This film is now being showcased as one of the films made by several young Afghan filmmakers as part of the special Afghan package at MIFF 2012.
In their interaction, Javed and his fellow filmmakers, spoke about the various difficulties they face while making films in Afghanistan. The present regime and it’s attitude towards documentary filmmakers came in for a fair bit of discussion. Javed, Alka and Mohammed are a trio of young filmmakers who have chosen to depict the true picture of a country torn by strife. Javed said, " As filmmakers we still face threats when we chose touchy subjects for our documentaries. We receive veiled threats from the government and in fact I was even told not to make a specific film on state of children in our country. I received an anonymous call and was told to discontinue. I had no option but to do so. As filmmakers we have to seek permission from the information and broadcasting ministry even to take a camera along with us. If we do not have the required permissions on our person we are waylaid by thieves and dacoits and our equipment gets stolen or destroyed. In some regions of our country we even have to have armed guards with us to protect us from aggressive and violent conservatives.”
Alka spoke about the cultuiral exchanges that Afghanistan has been having with India , over the years. “ Our people watch a lot of Bollywood cinema. Shah Rukh Khan is very popular in our country. Our films have next to no viewership within the country. We seek co-productions from people outside our country in order to make our projects viable. Our films are viewed mostly on TV in Europe and the West.”
Alka said, “ There aren’t many filmmaking opportunities in our country because we do not have any public cinemas and filmmaking schools. Kabul University has a media course which turns out a handful of filmmaking professionals but the equipment is poor and the knowledge they gain is purely theoretical. That is why we have to go abroad to study filmmaking. I went to Italy to do my film studies.”
Javed studied filmmaking in Paris at Eicar while Alka was encouraged to make films when she saw her older sister succeed at it. Alka was studying to be a journalist before she moved to documentaries. Mohammed Hassani on the other hand was an actor before he started making fiction shorts for International television. All three filmmakers have been able to have private invite only screenings of their films in their country . It has been difficult for them to exhibit their films on TV in their own country because the TV honchos demand money for screening their films. Javed says, “ as it is we find it difficult to get finance for our films. I have self financed my film and Alka and Mohammed have had theirs co-produced on right sharing basis. We may not face direct censorship from the Government but we have to face indirect censorship in the form of rogue elements from the administration who ban films based on their own conservative parameters.”
When I asked the three how they procured raw stock for their films, All three acceded to making digital films where raw stock was not needed. Javed and Alka did their own editing and post production while Hassani out-sourced it to a source within the country. Now they have been to MIFF they have come into contact with several Post-production outfits who have offered them good deals and Javed is confident that he will be looking at outsourcing post-production for his second film (which is in the pre-production stage)to India. Alka ,Javed and Mohammed Hassani are also looking for finance for films they want to make in the near future.
Javed is trying to make a difference in his own country by conducting free workshops for students wanting to be future filmmakers. He says “ I conduct workshops once a month and the number of students attending have been increasing. In fact it has become impossible for me to manage within the current space. I have already produced 4 documentaries for my students and I am encouraged by the interest and diligence they show towards film making.”
As a woman filmmaker, Alka travels around Afghanistan without any bodyguards , wielding her camera as a weapon against those who want to curb her freedom. Her bravery came in for a lot of comment and praise by fellow filmmakers as well as the press present there. Alka said, “ When I started film making, I was the only woman filmmaker around. So it was very difficult for me to get my first project off the ground. We are not allowed the freedom to chose any subject. I could choose only those which were acceptable to the government. Yet I chose to go ahead and make the film the way I wanted to. I have had to face a few difficulties along the way. But I think the result was worth the effort.”
“Alka won an award for her film at the Al Jazeera film festival , which was a great achievement for a young woman filmmaker from a country which was not looked upon in a positive light by the world,” added Javed.
Mohammed Hassani also spoke about the difficulties he faced while making documentaries in Afghanistan. To a question that Anand Patwardhan raised, about the lack of documentaries on the pre-Mujahideen /Taliban phase in Afghanistan during Soviet control, he said, “ as young filmmakers we do not know that much of our own histories so we have a long way to go. Learn and research and document before we can even try to bring that phase to the public eye. I agree that that was a rosy period compared to the Taliban phase when our freedoms were completely curbed. Even before the Soviets entered Afghanistan, our country had a great culture and freedom. “
According to the trio the Taliban still exists in most parts of the country and they have to be wary at all times when they set out to make a film. They really don’t know when they will have to face a bomb attack or any other threat from radicals within the fold. Javed’s family lives in London. He is the only one living voluntarily in Kabul. Alka and Hassani are also residents of Kabul. Javed Taiman concluded by saying, “ whatever the difficulties we face , we will continue to make films that depict the truth of our people in the years to come.”