Review of a Few Afghan Films at the 4th Didor International Film Festival
Embracing Dust and Ashes
by Houshang Golmakani

  Safar Haqdadov and Sadullah Rahimov highlight the arid frontiers of Tajikistan’s cinema with the Didor Film Festival once in every two years. In 2004, when the festival was launched thanks to Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s support and encouragement, the Tajik capital of Dushanbe did not have even one single movie theater. At that time, film production was limited to casual output, that is, one or two feature films and a few documentaries and short films. Most of these were often made with rundown equipment. Now after three years, the situation remains still almost the same. Most well-known Tajik filmmakers have moved on to other countries. Nevertheless, Dushanbe has now four multiplex theaters. One of them screened Avatar in 3D during the festival. The buildings are the same that were used as theaters under the Communist regime. They were shut down after the downfall of the Soviet Union and during civil wars and were re-opened only two years ago. Foreign investment has given Tajikistan a facelift after six years and four festivals. However, the festival is still held at small scale without government investment or support and only thanks to the efforts put in it by a few. Its movers and shakers are Safar Haqdadov and Sadullah Rahimov, the former a filmmaker who is the festival’s executive official and the latter a film historian who takes care of the cultural side and planning as well as film selection.
  Didor is the only film festival that features a collection of films from Central Asia. Tajik cinema put on display all the films it had produced during the past two years, that is, only two new feature films this time around. They added two films dating back to three or four decades ago as well as a few documentaries so that they could call it a “section.” Apart from Tajik films, this year’s festival had two more sections: A section including a few Afghan short films, features and documentaries. The other section included 25 Iranian documentaries about Tehran. These films, said Rahimov, conveyed ambivalent feelings about the rapidly changing city with a sympathetic attitude although they also expressed concern as some of these changes have ruined some of the city’s traditional characteristics.
  The festival’s competition section included 12 feature films as well 10 short fiction films from the regional countries. Iranian cinema has always had an active presence at this festival and has always won one or more awards. This time, Majid Barzegar won the best directing award for his film Rainy Seasons; a glance at the Iranian urban society in the style of modern North European films. The best film award was given to The Light Thief from Kyrgyzstan, a film directed by Aktan Arym Kubat, a 55 year old Kyrgyz filmmaker who also played the leading part in his film. This was a social film that portrayed life in Central Asia following the decline of communism with a critical approach and a poetic and sometimes ironic tone.
  Chairman of the jury was veteran Iranian documentary filmmaker Kamran Shirdel. The festival gave its lifetime achievement award to Shirdel and Ali Khamraev, a Russian-Uzbek filmmaker now living in Russia, who was a member of the jury.
  Taking part in this small and lovely festival with its kind and passionate hosts provided an opportunity for watching some Afghan films in a dedicated section. This provided the motivation for catching a glimpse of Afghan cinema during the years following the fall of Taleban.

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