KABUL (Reuters) - In a dusty, dimly lit Kabul basement, British cinema fan club 'Secret Cinema' launched their first movie event outside Britain on Thursday evening, bringing costume, audience participation and light-hearted mystery to the high-security Afghan capital.
The group has built up a following in Britain by showing critically acclaimed films in unusual locations, creating a fun atmosphere for film buffs and, crucially, keeping the name of the movie under wraps until the lights go down.
The key to choosing Kabul, whose potholed roads, sketchy communications and ubiquitous security emplacements do not easily lend themselves to meticulously planned art events, was the desire to show a dimension of the city beyond violence, fear, and the ongoing military campaign.
"People say 'the Taliban will come' ... but there's also lots of other life going on, not just the terror," said Fabien Riggall, creative director and founder of Secret Cinema, speaking from London.
"The idea is that anyone, anywhere should have access to film ... I'm very passionate about the idea that culture should be made available to people."
Riggall was inspired by Afghanistan-based artist Travis Beard, who earlier this year organized a music festival in Kabul -- a rare event in a city better known worldwide for suicide attacks like Tuesday's huge blast at a Shi'ite Muslim festival which killed more than 50 people.
"Kabul is starving, it's thirsty for more cultural activities," said Beard, who organized Thursday's screening.
The select group of Western and Afghan film fans who gathered after sundown had been given clues about the film via Facebook, but the exact location of the screening was only revealed shortly before the screening began.
"In the West, a lot of time you'd advertise an event and promote it a lot, but you can't do that here, so we do 'stealth promotion' ... everyone know's it's on at six o'clock on Thursday, but no-one knows the location until they SMS us," Beard said.
As with most activities in Kabul, security is a factor.
"We're not trying to exclude people, but because of the security situation we need to be careful about who's invited to the event," Beard, dressed in costume matching the film, the identity of which organizers want to keep secret during a run of similar events in London.
Organizers want to extend the appeal of showing classic films in unusual environments beyond the foreign professionals who live in Kabul.
"We can get an audience that's interested in something besides going to the cinema and seeing Bollywood -- we're trying to give them something else," Beard said.
"We're really trying to broaden the invitation list, we don't just want expats hanging out with expats. There's quite a strong community of Afghans here who are artistically minded."
Editing by Paul Casciato