You are very familiar with Afghanistan. You have been living in the country since long. You made a ride across this wonderful war-torn country. Can you tell us something about your experience in war-torn country?
I was there for the first time in 2002, my family lived in the region when I was a kid. On my mother side, my family has never lived in France, but in different countries. Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, India. At the end of 2001 I decided to go there. Actually I was supposed to go to Tagikistan, but I was so eager to discover Afghanistan. At the beginning I had a six month contract with a NGO, but it lasted much longer than I expected. I began playing buzkashi, Afghani national sport. It is not football indeed, it is much more violent. I played buzkashi three years in Kabul municipal team. I had lot of adventures in Afghanistan. I climbed its hightest mountains. I was lucky enough to see the other side of the country differently from what you normally read in the newspapers. I used to work a lot with journalists, they know the “official side” of Afghanistan, I wanted to look for something else than the official so I started a production company in 2007.
Kabullywood is your third feature, a portrait of the painful situation of Afghanistan after American withdrawal through the eyes of one best movie theatre in Kabul, the most fashionable and attended: the Cinema Aryub survived in 30 years of brutal violence, civil war, and Taliban rule. How did you come to this idea?
I try to make a long story short. At the beginning I was not living in Kabul, in the North, in the desert, in the mountains. In 2006 I settled in Kabul, where at the time a French lady, a theatre director Ariane Mnouchkin was there to select a group of Afghani comedians coming to France with three years visa. In 2008, after three years visa was expired and they were supposed to come back to Afghanistan. Ariane Mnouchkin tried to get subsides from different parts, different stakeholders to opened a theatre in Kabul, to give these comedians the opportunity to live as artists. I was working with them at that time trying to find a theatre in Kabul. Unfortunately, the situation deteriorated, money never arrived and the theatre as a cultural project never realized. The comedians stayed in France and are still in France today, they do not want to come back to Afghanistan. They want to apply for French citizenship. In 2013 I thought it was a shame to see so many artists going out of Afghanistan, they are on the front line of terror, front victims of Taleban and extremist groups. I thought it was a pity not to create such a theatre in Kabul. I said to myself: let’s do it. A friend, a writer, wrote a fiction story of young Afghanis who decided to open a theatre in Kabul. We needed a place to put the story. When I found the place, the one you see in the movies, the Aryub Cinema, I had in mind only to shoot a film. Later I planned to renovating the place, the Aryub after shooting. We said let’s try to open a real cultural center. In 2008 I moved to the official project in, the Aryub and backed it. People thought it was crazy to shoot a film in Kabul, it was very very dangerous. I found no money and I had to do the film alone. During the shooting the building was ridden with bullets, there were explosions, parts of the team was involved in bombing. It was very very dangerous, I did a documentary about this situation.
How long did it take to shoot Kabullywood?
Post production took long because there were no money left, so I decided to release the documentary first and looking in Paris someone for editing the film.
You launched a crowdfunding campaign?
Officially the campaign collected 30, 000 thousand dollars but more than twenty thousand dollars came from my pockets. The cost of the film was very expensive.
What about the Cinema Aryub now?
It is close at the moment. It is too difficult to re-open it.In Kabul you have two, three cinemas. There is a big competition with people watching television or buying DVD in the bazar. They prefer stay home as people going to the cinema are considered bad guys, people who go there to smoke hashish, see women nacked. In the Seventies, instead, lots of families went to the cinema, day and night. The culture of cinema was destroyed. So we thought instead of just a cinema to open a cultural center for cinema, music exhibitions, parties etc. The problem is security, Afghanistan is at war, the country has no resources to sponsor something like this and international donors are focusing on infrastructure not on culture, culture is not a priority in Afghanistan.
What about culture and culture revival presently after the American withdrawal in Kabul and in the rest of the country?
It is very dangerous to run a cultural center. I was the founder of this project, unsuccessfully. Now I live in Jordan, my friends have exposed themselves a lot because of me. It was not possible for me to decide to go further with this project, open a cultural center. I would be safe somewhere in Europe but my friends would become targets, they already are. Culture is not dead in Afghanistan, a sense of Afghani culture is still alive but for now it is not the priority, as for cinema revival.
How do you image Afghanistan future in some years ahead?
The more I live here the less understand the country. We foreigners came at the end of 2002 with a big promise: bring peace and democracy. Nothing of this happened. We are bombing the country, I can understand the great resentment in Afghani people. Afghanistan is not only pashtun, there are tagiki, hazara, kirghizi, turkmeni, baluci.Afghanis have never been a people, never been united. They unite themselves only against an invaders, the Russians the Americans. There is an Afghani proverb saying “I am fighting against my brother.”
Back to cinema. We cannot talk about Afghani cinematography, if any. Nonetheless, are there any emerging film-makers and what is the state of film in Afghanistan now?
There are a lot, some of them are quite famous, just as Siddiq Barmak, Barmak Akram. They take all the media space. Behind them there are many Afghani film makers not having support, they are very frustrated, devoid of sustain, of money. I call my film Kabullywood because Kabullywood does not exist, it is somewhere between Bollywood and Iran, somewhere in a completely different culture. If you look at the Afghani cinema in the Sixty and in the Seventies, there was a lot of creativity and imagination; it was a mix of European cinema and Indian cinema but no sense of Bollywood. Afghanistan is a country with no rule, no law, and it reflects in the cinema as well.
What about your next project?
My next project is in Amman, in Jordan. I travelled between Lebano and Turkey. I want to say something about this part of the world where many things are happening. I am deeply in love with Afghanistan, I haven’t found a more beautiful place in the world but I need to renew myself after twelve years spent in Afghanistan, I need to see other things. I am writing a new story here in Jordan.