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Afghan Film Sector Looks to South Korea for Guidance

The Patience Stone film still

Struggling filmmakers attempt to start over in post-Taliban era.

Afghanistan should look to South Korea for inspiration in order to revive its ailing film industry, said three of the Central Asian country’s most
prominent filmmakers at the Busan International Film Festival this year. 

“One of the reasons we are here is to talk with our Korean friends to see how they managed to get out of their crisis in the 1980s,” said film producer Ibrahim Arify, who now heads the government-backed body, Afghan Film, referring to the various government incentives that propelled Korean cinema to commercial and critical acclaim in the 1990s.

Director Siddiq Barmak, best known for Osama (2003) and Opium War (2008), said the post-Taliban administration has called for Afghani filmmakers to find their funding in the private sector, which has left them “victims of the free market.”

While providing technical assistance to projects from local directors, Afghan Film, established in 1968, does not have the funds to invest in productions, said Arify, who was in Busan with Barmak and filmmaker Latif Ahmadi, a former Afghan Film director, for BIFF’s sixfilm program celebrating the work of Afghanistan’s national film archive.

The Afghan industry’s fortunes, of course, will also hinge on international co-productions — such as Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone, a Franco-German-Afghan title screening at BIFF — and foreign films shooting in the country.

Among films readying for Afghan shoots, according to Arify, is a Belgian feature set in the north of the country, and documentaries by Irish and New Zealand directors. While Afghan cinema was on the rise in the 1960s and 70s, the industry slowed as political instability set in during the civil war in the 1990s, and ground to a halt when the Taliban, which deems movies immoral, came to power.

It was during this time that the Taliban ransacked the film archive, destroying more than 5,000 hours worth of material, Ahmadi said. The devastation of the archive would have been comprehensive, had eleven staff members not managed to hide the bulk of the institution’s holdings behind fake walls and in underground passages, he added.

Recovered after the ousting of the Taliban in 2003, the archive now contains 8,000 hours of work, with some reels dating back to before WWII. Restoration is ongoing with international partners, such as France’s INA.