It was notably attended by Afghan filmmakers Sahraa Karimi and Sahra Mani. The former is the first woman president of the Afghan Film Organisation and author of the recent appeal to cinema communities around the world as her country fell to the Taliban.
Mani (A Thousand Girls Like Me) is a documentary filmmaker who is presenting her latest project at the CoProduction Market here on the Lido.
Both women described the situation leading up to the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan in August and made impassioned pleas to the film community to help their voices to be heard.
Karimi outlined the progress the film industry had made right up to the insurgency, including having several films in production and post-production, preparing the second ever National Film Awards and being about to finalize insurance for equipment to help independent filmmakers and co-producers to shoot inside Afghanistan. “And, suddenly, all of that stopped within a few hours.”
Said Karimi: “Imagine, Sunday August 15 you start your normal day, but a few hours later you decide the most difficult decision of your life — stay or leave — you see the collapse of your dream, you country. It’s not just about me or other filmmakers, it’s about the younger generation of filmmakers.”
She added: “Now Kabul and other big cities are dead cities. Within two weeks, the most promising young people, they just left. The most talented, educated, bright minds…Imagine a country without artists, without filmmakers. How can it defend its identity?”
The Taliban, said Karimi, “is trying to show the soft face of themselves, but now they are as cruel as before, but they are more smart than before using modern communication technology. They will use cinema or audio-visual product for propaganda.”
The filmmaker asked the international film community “to be our voices. All of you, don’t forget about Afghanistan. We have talent, we are hardworking, we have stories to tell to the world. We can be part of the world community… we tried so much, we shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Karimi didn’t come to Venice with solutions or seeking financial support. Instead, she said she was asking for “intellectual support, something that gives us hope that we don’t feel that we are going to die. Support for the Afghan people because we deserve to live in peace, in calm society and we deserve to fulfill our dreams.”
Mani said even before recent events it was “not easy at all” to work in Afghanistan, citing the “corrupt” government and incessant bombings. The Taliban’s stance against music was particularly notable: “They arrested a musician and shot him to death because he played a musical instrument. We are not 100 years ago. It’s shameful for us in any corner of the world if someone got killed for playing a musical instrument.” Her current movie is about boys and girls studying music together, but the Taliban occupied the music school and broke all of the instruments — including antique pianos — while some students have gone into hiding. “The next few generations, the Taliban will maybe educate them to become terrorists,” Mani said.
She concluded, “Today, it is my misery, my people lose everything. Who knows if tomorrow they come to the rest of the world or not? This is an important question for all of us to ask.”
Also present were board members of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR). A theme of the discussion for them was the need to create humanitarian corridors and a guarantee that those who get out are granted political refugee status.
Orwa Nyrabia, Artistic Director of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, described the Taliban as “the villain of the film taking over the whole country, a villain (who) chose filmmakers as their enemies.” He said, “We have to push governments that the film community is not silent and is not waiting… We need to stand up and help and not be overcalculated, because while you calculate, people will be killed.”
The IFCR has helped get a few hundred artists out of the country, with some European countries taking them in. Mike Downey, President of the European Film Academy, read a note from one filmmaker who was evacuated: “Thank you for reaching out to me. I got out before the explosion and I left everything behind including my heart.”
Added Downey, “Destroying art and artists has never been incidental to the Taliban. Cultural heritage undermines its claim to power. But if a new vision is ever to emerge, the country’s artists must be given some hope to survive. We need to work together to provide some kind of lifeline.”