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Afghan director Sahraa Karimi, the head of national cinema body Afghan Film, who last week escaped Kabul ahead of Taliban militants, will travel to the Venice Film Festival to speak on the plight of her country and its filmmakers.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter via WhatsApp from Kyiv in Ukraine, Karimi said Venice will provide a platform at this year’s festival to discuss the fate of Afghan filmmakers and the country’s cinema industry in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
Karimi is well known at the Venice festival. Her drama Hava, Maryam, Ayesha premiered there in 2019 in the Horizons sidebar.
The situation for those trying to escape Afghanistan became even more dire following a pair of suicide bombing attacks outside the Kabul airport on Thursday. The attacks, which killed scores of Afghan citizens and 13 American troops, have made it nearly impossible for civilians to access the airport. The window for airlifts out of Kabul is narrowing, with just four days remaining until the Aug. 31 deadline for the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Karimi was able to get out on Aug. 17, just days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, taking a Turkish airlines flight from the Afghan capital to Istanbul and then to Kyiv. Since arriving, she has worked to help colleagues and their families escape. “We’ve managed to get some 36 people and their families out,” she says, thanks to the support of the Ukrainian and Slovakian government (Karimi, who studied cinema in Bratislava, holds Slovak citizenship).
Many, however, still remain.
“One of the actresses of my film [Hava, Maryam, Ayesha] was coming to the airport yesterday when the bombs went off,” Karimi says. “She got away, she’s safe. But she can’t get out that way now.”
Karimi says she is exploring more clandestine means to help her actress and other members of her film crew escape but declined to discuss details for fear their safety could be compromised. “Pure chaos” is how the director describes the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
She claims the Taliban is already slowly moving to censor or shut down the local film industry. Women working at Afghan Film have not yet been fired but have been told to stay home, Karimi says.
“The Taliban have refused to speak to me at all, even though I’m head of Afghan Film. I was kicked out of our [WhatApp] workgroup then when I asked why they re-instated me. I’ve asked if I’m still in charge, if I should return, but no answer.”
From the retaliative safety of Europe, Karimi says she will continue to speak up for those left behind or facing an uncertain future as refugees.
“We cannot let the world forget,” she says. “Or it will be the end of Afghan cinema.”
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