Photo Credit: Shahrbanoo Sadat at the screening of "The Orphanage" during the IFFR 2020 - Own Work - CC BY-SA 4.0

Afghan filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat has safely made it out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country. She is currently in Abu Dhabi, waiting to board a flight to Europe, said a statement released to the press by her representatives.

“With the help of the French government and the help from people all around the world, Shahrbanoo made it after many days, together with 9 family members, through the crowds and Taliban checkpoints into the airport, where French soldiers took care of her and her family,” read the statement from Sadat’s representatives.

Sadat is one of the many Afghans who have reluctantly chosen to leave the country to avoid persecution at the hands of the Taliban.

The celebrated filmmaker, who became the youngest person to be selected for the Cannes Cinefondation Residence in 2010 and subsequently won the main award at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight in 2016 for her debut feature film Wolf and Sheep, had earlier said to The Hollywood Reporter, “If I survive this and I have the chance to make more films, my cinema will have changed forever.”

Sadat, who is currently working on Kabul Jan, the third film in her Wolf and Sheep pentalogy, said that she had realised the gravity of the situation only when the bank that she went to withdraw money from, had started evacuation.

“Living in Afghanistan, your ears get used to hearing about how the Taliban are on the way, the Taliban are in this part of the country and that part of the country. So, you don’t really differentiate the danger anymore, because you hear these sentences all the time.”

Photo Credit: Sahraa Karimi Twitter handle – [cropped, resized]
Sahraa Karimi, another prominent Afghan filmmaker and the current as well as first female head of the state-run Afghan Film Organization, also fled Afghanistan around ten days ago and has taken refuge in Kiev, Ukraine.

Karimi, who directed the 2019 film Hava, Maryam, Ayesha, penned an open letter to the international film community on August 13, seeking support for the Afghan people, and particularly the filmmakers.

Explaining the impact of Taliban’s dreaded rule on Afghan women and artists, Karimi wrote, “If the Taliban take over, they will ban all art. I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list. They will strip women’s rights, we will be pushed into the shadows of our homes and our voices, our expression will be stifled into silence. In just a few weeks, the Taliban have destroyed many schools and 2 million girls are now forced out of school again.”

Speaking about the future of Afghan cinema to Variety, Karimi said, “I am still in shock, but I’m sure when things have calmed down I will start to think, ‘What will I do?’ How many stories can you make in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan? Are you going to build an entire Kabul somewhere else? That works in the short term, maybe, for one, two or three films, but not the long term.”

Karimi recently spoke at the Kiev Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, her first public appearance after leaving Afghanistan, and said, “In Afghanistan, no one can think about Covid-19 because they [Taliban] don’t let us think about it. They just want to kill us. Because we want to be free, and ensure equality for women, children, and artists  around the world.” She requested the attendees and the Ukranian government to not recognise Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan.

As of now, only Pakistan and China have formally recognised the Taliban’s rule.

Apart from Karimi and Sadat, female Afghan artists like Leena Alam, Amina Jafari, Saba Sahar and Marina Gulbahari are also feared to be under threat from the Taliban.

The militant organisation attacked cinemas when it first took over Kabul in 1996. While thousands of reels were burnt by the Taliban, people like Habibullah Ali, along with his colleagues at Afghan Film, successfully hid over 7,000 reels of footage in various places in the Kabul premises of the institution and saved Afghanistan’s film heritage from extinction. These were later digitized to ensure a permanent documentation.

Despite being in its infancy, the Afghan film industry, whose first production Eshq-o-Dusti, came out in 1946, has made an indelible mark on world cinema. Although Afghanistan never had its own film school and aspiring filmmakers had to travel to Russia or India to learn the technicalities, films from the country have garnered international recognition.

Notable films from Afghanistan include Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s 2011 film Kandahar, the first ever Afghan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and Siddiq Barmak’s Osama, which won the Golden Globe Awards in 2003.