Despite limited funding options, Afghani director Siddiq Barmak has managed to make not one, but two feature movies. His first, Osama — about a girl who is disguised as a young boy to survive in Taliban-struck Afghanistan — won a Golden Globe for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. His second film, Opium Wars (2008), was a dark comedy about two American soldiers stranded in the poppy fields of Afghanistan. One would imagine that after two critically-acclaimed, award-winning projects, making his next movie would be a tad easier. But clearly, that isn’t the case.
At the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) 2013 where he is heading the India Gold section, Barmak says, “My second film had producers from South Korea and France. So now I am looking for (funding for) my new film in Russia, Germany, France and maybe India. I don’t know… this is a big problem… that’s why I am jealous of my friend, Asghar Farhadi, who is making a film in his own country. Some bank has come to invest in his film, but we still don’t have it (funding).”
Although there has been a recent surge in the number of cinema enthusiasts in Afghanistan, Barmak says the government’s “open market style of financing films” is a big obstacle. “We work in the absence of producers. That’s why such talented Afghani film-makers are collecting money from their friends, making short films and travelling outside to find producers,” he says.
With barely any theatres left — over 33 years of war destroyed most — it’s the TV channels that have come to the rescue of short filmmakers. “The theatres we do have screen commercial Bollywood and Pakistani films or those from Hong Kong. Art house films only find place at film festivals and on TV channels,” says the 51-year-old film-maker, before revealing an interesting piece of information. “We also have very bad copies of Indian films that are made by some of our Afghan film-makers. They are a mix of Indian films with Afghan culture. (smiles)”
Incidentally, MFF also has a section, Kabul Fresh, dedicated to screening films made by young directors from the country. “There are lots of them — including many women — making documentaries. And they have a chance to do something. For older people at our age, it’s too late. Although I believe cinema can’t change anything. If that was possible, films would stop all these wars from taking place. It can only give ideas of change,” he says.