In 1996 during working on a short film in Amsterdam, I met Shoresh Kalantari who was studying film directing in “Nederlandse Film en Televisie Academi“. His short film “Meaning of Night” was Oscar nominated at that time and was shown in lots of international short film festivals. Shoresh moved later to Canada to study Film Production in Concordia University in Montreal and since 2004 he is working as TV producer for United Nation Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
ShJ- To start at the very beginning, what were the major factors that led you to take up working as a TV Producer for UNAMA in Kabul?
Kalantari- Well, A friend who was working in Afghanistan asked me once if I was interested in volunteering to teach and train filmmaking to Afghan youth. And I said yes. Months later I received a call from the UN human resources. They asked me if I was interested in working for the UN as TV producer in Kabul. I was very curious about the development of Afghanistan after three decades of war, and wanted to know how people live their life after the Taliban era. This was a good opportunity to find out first hand what is going on in terms of social development but also art and cinema. So I accepted the offer.
ShJ- Are you working on a film or TV project in Kabul?
Kalantari- I produce a weekly show. The Afghan National Television broadcasts it. I also periodically produce documentaries about the development issues the UN is directly involved in.
ShJ- Could you give us a brief introduction or an overview of the film-production in Afghanistan before and after the war?
Kalantari- Film production in Afghanistan has, well, obviously, increased since the Taliban regime was ousted. But the Afghan film industry has a modest history if you compare it with the other countries in the region like Iran and India. Since 1951, which is the year experts agree saw the birth of Afghan cinema, there have been only 40 films produced.
Now four years after Taliban, Afghan filmmakers are struggling to find resources to finance their projects. There are quite a bit of digitally produced short films by a new generation of Afghan filmmakers. About 30 to 35 short films every year. They are mainly funded by NGO’s and the international community. Only three or four full-length films were made on 35mm in over the past four years. Two of the full lengths were shot by Afghan filmmakers coming back from Diaspora last year.
ShJ- Has Afghan cinema progressed in recent years, after the war?
Kalantari- Well, Afghan film has certainly progressed. Filmmakers like Seddig Barmak (Osama), and newcomers like Roya Sadat and others have proven that new Afghan films are coming up. But I think it is still too soon to talk about a new Afghan cinema.
ShJ- How is the shooting condition on “location” concerning current “danger and security fears” in Afghanistan?
Kalantari- Shooting in some part of the country is still possible, difficult but possible. There have been even some foreign productions, mostly Indian and French. They were shot in Bamiyan and Kabul province.
ShJ- How are the financial aids to local films workers provided? How they provide equipments and materials, technical stuff and post-production facilities?
Kalantari- There is not much high tech equipment here. Most of the production and postproduction facilities are just for simple video shooting. There are not many trained technicians and the few that are there have a poor training and are lacking professional film equipment. The new government has a thousand other things to think about other than giving financial help to Afghan filmmakers. Therefore most of the help for film making comes through the international community. Those who decide to shoot in Afghanistan bring their own technical crew with them.
ShJ- How many of the audience go to watch an Afghan film? What is Afghan audience expectation?
Kalantari- There are some 23 cinemas still active in Afghanistan. About 85% of them are government owned. These are showing mainly Bollywood films and some Hollywood action trash. Youth and children are the main public of these cinemas.
ShJ- How dominant are the foreign films like Hollywood or Indian productions? What do you think people can gain from watching Afghan films?
Kalantari-Well, Bollywood is the main entertainment in Afghan theatres. And most of them are Bollywood copy of Hollywood action films. What would youth gain from it, well you see, there is no electricity in most part of the country and a big majority of the Afghans have neither electricity nor TV at home and most theatres are run on generators.
These theatres with their Bollywood trash are the only source of entertainment for these kids. What will come out of it, well as an Afghan would say; only God knows!
ShJ- How about conservative tendencies?
Kalantari- Of course, the conservatives are trying to create limitations, but so far the ministry of culture has been helpful in this sense by not allowing conservative forces to control the cultural life.
ShJ- How do you think it would be possible to bring the Afghan films to a larger audience inside Afghanistan?
Kalantari- Cinema in general is facing this problem in most part of the world. In Afghanistan this is not their biggest problem. I think when there is security and enough economic development; the Afghans will be back in theatres.
ShJ- How many film schools are there in Afghanistan? How about film or video magazines?
Kalantari- There is no film school. Kabul University has recently opened a facility for Visual Arts where they teach some Cinema. There have been some short courses by different NGOs. I’m sure it will be a good business, if someone dares to start something like this.
ShJ- What do you think could be an important help to develop film-production and consequently film culture in Afghanistan?
Kalantari- Funding and good training would be a good start. It would allow film production companies to produce regularly low budget films that will be shown to festival goers around the world.
There is a potential to produce very low budget films in Afghanistan. I think Afghan filmmakers understand very well that there is a market for these films. Also Afghanistan is a beautiful place with astonishing landscape and is absolutely unknown cinematically by the outside world. So, I think it will be very interesting for small producers to come and invest in a new generation of Afghan filmmakers and be the one to introduce them and help them to be the cultural ambassador of their country to the world. And at the same time see their investment grows. This will help Afghanistan get its cultural life back.
ShJ- Thank you for your time and I wish you nothing but success with your projects in Afghanistan.
Photos from: Shoresh M. Kalantari & Najib Haidari