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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 04:37 GMT
Return of the Afghan cinema
Burned reels of film
The Taleban burned films and wrecked cinemas
Marcus George

His hands were bound and his head slumped forward. A military boot crashed into his ribs, sprawling his blood-soaked body across the floor.

Two Russian soldiers towered above him. He had been caught during a skirmish in the mountains but, like every member of the mujahideen forces, he was ready to fight to the death.

People were upset during these five years of Taleban rule because they couldn't watch films.

Mohammad Hashem, cinema manager

With unrestrained strength, he broke away from his captors and within minutes had blown up the Soviet base.

Behind the blaze hundreds of mujahideen poured down from the hills, shouting battle cries and waving their Kalashnikovs. And then the credits rolled.

This was the ending of Oruj, the last film to be made under the previous mujahideen government.

Filmed in 1995, victory for the pro-Islamic groups against the Soviets was fresh in people's minds.

The following year, this glorification was to be washed away by a new breed of Afghan Islamicism. The Taleban arrived in Kabul, burning films, wrecking cinemas and outlawing such "infidel" pastimes.

Re-opening

After the collapse of the Taleban across the country, cinema is finally making its comeback. Cinemas have reopened across Kabul, attracting thousands of viewers every day.

Old Russian projectors have been returned to use, churning out decades-old Indian and Iranian films. The quality is low, the lighting bad and the frames damaged by scratches, dents and dust.

But under the blanket of darkness in the auditorium of the Park Cinema, hundreds sit on the edges of their seats during an Indian action film. Many do not understand the language but that does not seem to matter.

Reels of film
More than 1,000 reels escaped destruction
Cinemas across Kabul are getting busier by the day, said the manager of the Park Cinema, Mohammad Hashem.

"Afghan people love the cinema," Mr Hashem said. "People were upset during these five years of Taleban rule because they couldn't watch films. These films were important to take their minds off other problems and there are so many problems in Afghanistan.

"Hundreds are coming to see films every day. But we don't have many films because the Taleban destroyed so many in the collection."

Destruction

This was a collection numbering many thousand stored at the Afghan Film Institute.

A visit by a high-ranking Taleban official last year led to the order to burn the institute's entire stock of films, numbering more than 3,000.

At the back of the compound piles of tape reels lie half-burned. Their destruction had to be transferred outside the city because it was attracting too much attention.
Film being edited
Films are censored by the institute

But more than 1,000 films were saved from the fire. In desperation, the institute's editors boarded up an entire room, hoping it would not be discovered.

But much of the institute's technical equipment to make and edit films, documentaries and programmes could not be saved.

Now its main role is censoring programmes which may not adhere to the accepted codes of their present audience.

Censorship

All films shown in Afghanistan must be approved by the institute, said Daoud Nayimi, president of Afghan Films.

"In the interests of Afghanistan and Islam, we will cut anything that is detrimental to young people," he said.

"We will take out any pornographic material. That is to say, any naked women or half-naked women.

"But anything which is overtly political or dangerous for the government will also be taken out."

Three shots fired out. In the corner of the room an Indian bandit doubled up and collapsed. In front of the screen hundreds of Afghans were in raptures.

These films may be 30 years old but, after five years of misery under the Taleban, Afghans are relishing their new cinematic freedom, while eating popcorn.

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