Is it curtains for Afghanistan's fading silver screen?

Thu May 17, 2012 3:11am EDT
 
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Hassib

KABUL (Reuters) - Clouds of hashish and cigarette smoke float across a screen showing a dancing Pakistani woman, who evokes yowls of excitement from the hundreds of Afghan men passing their time in one of the capital's rundown cinemas.

Once a treasured luxury for the elite, Afghan film connoisseurs are deeply distressed by the dilapidated state of their cinemas, which reflect an industry on the brink of collapse from conflict and financial neglect.

"Before our audiences were educated. Now they are illiterates who understand nothing of cinema and come only to smoke (marijuana)," said Sayed Khalid Sadat, manager of Pameer cinema, which sits on a corner in the bustling centre of Kabul.

Kabul's cinemas show Pakistani films in Pashto, American action films and Bollywood to rowdy, largely unemployed crowds in pursuit of any distraction from their drab surroundings.

It's a far cry from the heyday of Afghan-produced film 40 years ago, when cinemagoers were required to wear suits or evening wear.

Pameer is one of seven cinemas operating in the capital, down from the 23 Kabul boasted before the onslaught of the civil war in 1992, which razed two-thirds of the city. They all charge the equivalent of about one dollar per ticket.

Later the Taliban banned cinema, music and television outright during their five-year rule, deeming them un-Islamic and ending a rich tradition in a country that started showing films in the 1920s during the rule of King Amanullah Khan, and shot its first movie in Lahore in 1951.

Now Afghan directors are desperately trying to salvage what is left of their industry and its legacy but receive almost no support from the government or abroad.   Continued...

 
A cinema goer uses his mobile phone to take a photograph of a film poster at Cinema Pamir in Kabul May 4, 2012. Once a treasured luxury for the elite, Afghan cinemas are dilapidated and reflect an industry on the brink of collapse from conflict and financial neglect. Kabul's cinemas show Pakistani films in Pashto, American action films and Bollywood to rowdy, largely unemployed crowds in pursuit of any distraction from their drab surroundings. Picture taken May 4, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui