Afghanistan becoming 'country without artists' exiled directors warn Venice

There was moving testimony from Afghan filmmakers at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, as two female directors warned against trusting the Taliban’s promises.

“In just two weeks, the most brilliant elements have left the country, at least those who were able,” 38-year-old director Sahraa Karimi told reporters at the festival on Saturday.

“Imagine a country without artists,” added Karimi, who has won several international prizes for her work. 

She said the Afghan film industry had entirely stopped “in the space of a few hours” after last month’s sudden takeover by the Taliban in the wake of the US military’s withdrawal.

“The archives are now under the control of the Taliban. The work of directors vanished in a few hours. Some were able to leave with their computers, others with nothing at all.”

Her fellow Sahra Mani, known for a documantary about victims of incest “A Thousand Girls Like Me”, added: “This collapse meant we lost everything.”

Mani, with a timid but determined air, used the example of Kabul’s only mixed music school. 

“The Taliban are now occupying the building. They have destroyed the students’ instruments and the students are in hiding,” she said on the verge of tears. 

Mina, who became the first head of the Afghan Film Organisation in 2019, spoke of her personal escape on August 15. 

“I started my day normally, and several hours later I had to take the hardest decision in my life: to stay or leave the country.

“We are actors, directors, producers, we are not politicians. We just want to realise our dreams.”

She described her fellow exiles as “ambassadors of Afghan identity”, and warned against trusting the Taliban. 

“Not only are they more cruel, they are wiser due to their use of technology.”

“We can only be saved by the international community. Help us! We need hope. Please be our voices and speak about our situation,” added Mani.

The pair were joined at Venice by members of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), which was formed at last year’s festival to help artists from countries in turmoil such as Myanmar. 

Today in Afghanistan, “the status of artist puts you in danger, you’re at the top of the list,” said Orwa Nyrabia, the Syrian head of the International Festival of Documentary Film in Amsterdam.

“We all have an interest in saving them, it’s in our interest.”

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