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First Afghan Film Festival: post-event report

Between the 15th and 21st of November, the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Canberra hosted the First Afghan Film Festival in Canberra, in collaboration with the ANU Film Group. The Festival was held at the ANU Kambri Cultural Centre, and attracted guests from around Canberra, the ANU community, government and the diplomatic corps, as well as those members of the Afghan community who travelled from Melbourne and Sydney to attend the screenings. 

The Festival was opened on Friday 15th November by H. E. Wahidullah Waissi, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and Mr Ian Biggs, Acting First Secretary of DFAT South and West Asia Division. In their official addresses, Ambassador Waissi and Mr Biggs spoke of the strength of the Australian-Afghan relationship and its growth in the area of people-to-people links. Both praised the resilience of Afghan cinema, particularly in its ability to shed new light on the flourishing cultural dimension of the Afghan-Australian relationship, now in its 50th year, and reaffirmed the commitments of both countries to a future of stability, security and ongoing cooperation.

This inaugural festival was a part of a series of celebrations and events throughout the year 2019, which marks the 50th Anniversary of Afghan-Australian relations and the 100th Anniversary of Afghanistan’s Reclamation of Independence. As part of this, the screenings showcased the growing cultural dimension and people-to-people links between Australia and Afghanistan, and the contributions which both countries have made to the arts, security and social movements, amongst others. 

The Festival was, importantly, a celebration of the resilience of Afghan cinema and its role in conveying powerful and diverse messages across the globe. This has been made possible by the brave women and men who work as directors, producers, documentary-makers, actors – and more, across the spectrum of film and documentary production. It is these talented individuals who make the First Afghan Film Festival possible, each with their own unique insight into life in Afghanistan. 

Several of these individuals travelled to Canberra from across Australia and Kabul to attend the Festival, giving attendees a rare opportunity to meet with and speak face-to-face with the talent behind the films and documentaries they saw. These included Salam Sangi, celebrated Afghan film star; Fahim Hashimy, the founder of the Ghan International Film Festival and documentary-maker on the history of Afghans in Australia; and Parwiz Shamal, Kabul-based reporter for Afghanistan’s biggest new corporation TOLO TV. The Festival also welcomed guest speakers including Fred Smith, Australian diplomat and singer/songwriter, and showed exclusive video interviews, including that with Sahraa Karimi – director of Hava, Maryam, Ayesha, which screened on the opening night. 

This added a rich dimension to the First Afghan Film Festival, and each director, actor and documentary-maker answered questions posed by the audience and spoke in detail about the themes of their work. It also gave an opportunity for guests to learn more about such topics as the status of women in Afghanistan and the work done by women’s organisations, about the Afghan film industry throughout history, and about the history of Australia’s Afghan cameleers. 

The range of 6 full-length feature films, many of which have been screened at international film festival and have won prestigious awards, and 4 short films and documentaries each touched on a different aspect of life in Afghanistan and the challenges and triumphs of its people. The 6 films which were screened were Hava, Maryam and Ayesha, Osama, The Orphanage, A Letter to the President, The Patience Stone and Jirga. Begana was the Festival’s selection in the short film category, and What I Saw on the Roof of the World, Cameleers and RocKabul were the documentary entries. 

These spanned several decades of Afghanistan’s political, social and cinematic history; reached across different provinces – from Kabul, to the farthest reaches of the Afghan territory in Badakhshan, to the villages of Kandahar; showed the plight of men, women and children, young and old, Afghan and non-Afghan alike. The films ranged in focus from Afghanistan’s music scene, to the experiences of Australian troops who served there, to the lives of those Afghans who travelled thousands of kilometres to make Australia their home – these, amongst others, truly exemplifies cinema’s role in acting as a tool for the wider outreach of important messages 

The selection of films and documentaries focused on different themes – and when combined with the question-and-answer sessions and guest speakers – created a unique learning experience for attendees of the Festival. There was a positive turn out for all screenings, with an active and engaged audience, and comments and reception from guests and media which covered the event particularly praised the diversity of the selection and the brave themes they covered. In particular, guests applauded the First Afghan Film Festival for leaving its guests with a new understanding and appreciation of Afghanistan. 

The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan wishes to extend its sincere thanks to the volunteers of the ANU Film Group, who provided invaluable advice, support and technological expertise which enabled the Festival to go ahead. 

Last modified on Monday, 02/12/2019

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