Kabul Dream Factory: Berlin Review

Fly-on-wall documentary chronicles, in quietly illuminating style, the daily struggles of an Afghan policewoman/filmmaker.  

German documentarian Sebastian Heidinger crafts a patient, observational study of Saba Sahar, a determined, inspiring woman battling considerable odds and ingrained prejudice.

There's rather more Kabul than Dream Factory in Kabul Dream Factory (Traumfabrik Kabul), a portrait of a pioneering policewoman-turned-filmmaker and the city where she lives and works. Taking a detached, fly-on-the-wall approach, German documentarian Sebastian Heidinger -- following up his more ambiguous 2007 docu-drama Drifter -- crafts a patient, observational study of a determined, inspiring woman battling considerable odds and ingrained prejudice.

With its incidental but informative insights into everyday goings-on in the Afghan capital, this is highly suitable fare for festivals specializing in women's issues, ever-topical Mid-eastern subjects, and films about filmmaking. Small-screen exposure is a given -- shot on video, the project was part-funded by German network ZDF.

Saba Sahar, described in opening titles as Afghanistan's first woman filmmaker, is seldom off-screen throughout, and her self-confident, assertive but restrained personality dominates Kabul Dream Factory. We see her going about her daily business: trying to line up funding for her next projects (an increasingly difficult business, given their controversial themes); setting up screenings via her mobile cinema (including hazardous trips to the war-zones of Helmand and Kandahar); shopping for perfumes (clad in a burqa, as such attire guarantees she'll obtain lower prices in the shops); being driven between appointments through the city's dusty, crowded streets as noisy passing jet-planes ominously crack the skies overhead.

Though she's given plenty of space to express her views ("We're all so tired of war. We're totally worn out," she sighs), Saba draws the line at opening up about her personal life and her domestic situation -- indeed, at one point she's shown being interviewed by a somewhat bored-looking documentarian (perhaps Heidinger himself?) and losing patience with his enquiries about how she felt when getting married at age 17.

If her husband is on-screen, he's never identified as such, while the arrival of a 10-month-old baby girl during the picture's second half (unfolding 10 months after the first) comes is an unexpected development as there had been no reference to Saba's pregnancy. Glamorous and always immaculately attired, she's very much "all business" throughout, impressively juggling her twin careers in filmmaking and law enforcement -- though it's the former which seems to take up the vast bulk of her time.

Her persistence has yielded ("with God's help") eight films including a handful of features, and it's excerpts from these movies -- which appear to be action-packed affairs socking over women's lib subjects in arrestingly direct style -- which provide Kabul Dream Factory with much-needed humor and dynamism. And while Saba's no-budget, unpolished productions may strike western observers are crude and even amateurish, it's rousing to see her cop alter ego Setara doling out curbside justice -- and some impressive martial-arts moves -- to a variety of haplessly boorish males.

Venue: Berlin International  Film Festival, Forum

Production companies: Boekamp & Kriegsheim; ZDF Documentary
Director: Sebastian Heidinger
Screenwriter: Sebastian Heidinger
Producer: Nils Boekamp
Directors of photography: Alexander Gheorghiu
Editor: Alex Fuchs
Sales: Boekamp & Kriegsheim, Berlin
No rating, 83 minutes


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