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Afghan Director Asks for Support from International Film Community: ‘Our Expression Will Be Stifled Into Silence’

Sahraa Karimi, the first female president of the Afghan state film company, says the Taliban's rule will threaten women and free expression.

Sahraa Karimi in a recent video posted on her Twitter account.

screenshot/Sahraa Karimi

Before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the Taliban ruled over the country, women were barred from public life, schools for girls were shuttered, and non-religious art was banned. In the subsequent two decades, women have become politicians, girls have been educated, and the country’s films have gained international attention. But that’s all threatened now that the Taliban has once again seized control of Afghanistan, Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi wrote in a recent open letter.

Karimi, who in 2019 was appointed as the first woman to lead the state-run Afghan Film company, posted the letter on Twitter on Friday. In it, she pleads with members of the international film community to use their voices to fight the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

“Everything that I have worked so hard to build as a filmmaker in my country is at risk of falling,” 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,” she wrote.

“Please help us get this world to care about what is happening to us. Please help us by informing your countries’ most important media what is going on here in Afghanistan. Be our voices outside Afghanistan,” she continued.

Kabul, the Afghan capital, was captured by the Taliban on Sunday, the same day that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. It came after cities across the country had been quickly overrun by the insurgent group after President Joe Biden pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from the country by September.

Karimi’s letter has been shared widely on Twitter, including by Northern Irish director Mark Cousins (“The Eyes of Orson Welles”) and Indian director Leena Manimekalai (“Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale”).

Afghan Film was established in 1968, though Afghanistan’s cinema declined in the 1990s after the fall of its communist government. Under the Taliban’s rule, art was prohibited.

In the last two decades, Afghan filmmakers have ascended to the national stage. Siddiq Barmak’s 2003 drama “Osama” won the foreign language Golden Globe. Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s 2011 Afghan-set “Kandahar” won a jury prize at Cannes and was named by Time as one of the 100 greatest films made since 1923. The 2012 short “Buzkashi Boys” was nominated for the live-action short Oscar.

Karimi’s most recent feature, “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha,” premiered at Venice in 2019; it follows three women living in Kabul from disparate backgrounds each facing a big challenge in their lives.

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