CINEMA: Marked by violence and oppression, Afghanistan’s recent history, Ariel Nasr’s documentary shows the invaluable nature of cinema.
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 26, 2019

Who in the Western world would risk their lives to save a national film archive? The first answer may very well be nobody, as we tend to live in our «comfort zones». But we have to imagine a situation where all the cinematographic treasures, the unique traces of complex cultural and political realities in times of radical historical change are only documented at one time, in one place.

In terms of Afghanistan, the country at the center of The Forbidden Reel , we also have to imagine a country, which, not only, has suffered radical changes, but also a barbaric will of systematic destructive forces. The 2001 destruction of large Buddha statues and of all non-Islamic artworks in the archaeological museum in Kabul are but the well-known surface of this disaster.

Systematically destroyed, raised or forgotten

The US-based artist, writer, and filmmaker Mariam Ghani recalls to us just how many aspects of Afghan culture have been systematically destroyed, raised or forgotten. But by an unbelievable fluke, the Afghan film archive has remained almost entirely intact. Ghani reminds us, that in the public perception of Afghanistan, intellectual, leftist, and modernist historical tendencies are completely absent, almost exclusively accessible through its film archive.

Who in the Western world would risk their lives to save a national film archive?

There was a time when violence in Afghanistan was not a normality. In those days, a small and personal film scene grew, far away from an actual industry. Even in the first days of the communist invasion of April 1978, which had been mostly welcomed as liberation from a corrupt dynasty, this scene was supported by funds and offered a space for personal expression within fictional film creation. At the same time, more women could take recognised positions, as actresses in film or at the governmental level. Later, during communist times, cinema production became more and more censured. It became an instrument of ideology propaganda. In this phase, executions were set in scene and «traitors,» including families, were persecuted. The uprising population …

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