In conversation with: Aboozar Amini, Kabul, City in the Wind

August 7, 2019

Aboozar Amini’s mesmerizing observational documentary introduces us to Abas, Afshin, and Benjamin, who guide us through Kabul, City in the Wind (2018). Abas is a sensitive yet oppressed bus driver, whose meagre livelihood is jeopardized when his vehicle breaks down. This is juxtaposed with two young brothers, Afshin and Benjamin, who are thrown into adulthood at an early age when their father flees to Iran.

DokuDaily: Did you go into Kabul with a clear idea of what kind of film you wanted to make?

Aboozar Amini: My vision was always to make an honest portrait of Afghanistan. I knew how Afghanistan was portrayed in the mass-media; an image of oppressed women by beardy misogynist Afghans, that almost everyone was a potential terrorist, a fundamentalist Islamist. The image created by the media was also telling me that the international troops are there to liberate people from the monsters. With this in mind I went to Kabul, but pretty soon, none of it seemed to be true.

I was disappointed in the media. It didn’t take me too long to realise that these people are just like all the other people in our planet. All they want is to take care of their family and create a simple normal life in peace. They have no clue who is fighting against whom. They have no idea what business the international troops have in Afghanistan. They don’t see any benefit for them. All they experience is that in the end, it is the people of Afghanistan who pay the price for this huge international war which was been going on for the past 40 years.

You said in an interview with Variety that wartime countries should look to Japanese cinema of the 50’s, why is that?

After the second world war, Japan was destroyed. It was year zero for the country. The whole society decided to rebuild their country. Everybody was working hard in his/her own field of expertise, filmmakers where not excluded from this. Japanese filmmakers were collectively determined to contribute to rebuilding their country starting from themselves.  Without any exceptions, they all started to dig deep into the core reason of what has brought Japan to this point. To ashes. Instead of blaming others, most of them became introspective. What kinds of behaviour, social attitudes, family systems have led the country into this pile of ash? The inner urge to look at the country with a critical eye was huge. They started criticising themselves again and again. They dissected Samurai hierarchy culture in order to study it closely. This heavy self-criticism made them become the second largest economy in the world only 20 years after they were on the receiving end of nuclear warfare. Japanese Cinema from the 50’s can be a very good example for us today, for post-war countries and those currently at war.

How would you describe your cinematic gaze on Afghanistan? Given that you’re an Afghan filmmaker who left the city as a refugee, and returned as a stranger?

I don’t consider myself an Afghan filmmaker, nor a European one. I don’t know what that really means. I think today, it is quite difficult to consider yourself someone who belongs to a geographical space. A country is only a geographical concept. The borders are just vague divisions with no clear character. Cinema is even more universal. Cinema is what I call my home and where I belong. I have the privilege to be born in Afghanistan, a place where my heart still belongs, but my soul is something which has been polished in the years since I became a wanderer in the world.

The only language I speak is the language of cinema, which is a universal one irrespective of how local your story is. I had unique access to Afghanistan, thanks to my childhood. I know all the beautiful and ugly faces of the city. This makes me look deeper, I’m not satisfied with superficial images. Afghanistan is a colourful country full of bright smiles on the streets. But that is just the surface, an image for tourists. In order to capture the soul of the place, one needs to take his/her time and look deeper into those gazes. After a while you will be shaken by the horror of war hidden deep in the eyes of those who smile at you.

While Kabul literally looks very windy, does the wind of the film’s title serve a metaphorical function as well?

The city is a windy city. But wind and dust comes from our poetry. The wind brings changes. It brings the seeds of the flowers and spread it all over the hills. But it can take you with it too. Take you to the unknown. The double metaphor of the wind is something you can feel and sense all over the country. When I am on top of those hills with the graveyards, the wind speaks to me, it whispers the voices of those young people who get killed suddenly without any reasons. Those innocent souls whisper and shout sometimes through the wind into our ears.

Afshin suddenly becomes head of the household when his father leaves for Iran. Isn’t this a bit patronising for his mother? To have an infant walking around thinking he’s the boss?

Not at all. Afshin’s mother, like all mothers in Afghanistan, is a very strong woman. She is the boss of the family, even when Afshin’s father was present. Afshin’s mother lets him feel like he’s the head of the household. She has complete control over everything. Perhaps mothers in Afghanistan anticipate the future of their children. They know that suddenly their kids may be forced to live on their own, perhaps out of the country or out of the town. They should be prepared. They need to grow up very quickly. In other words, this is a method of survival in that society. The media makes a lot of propaganda about oppressed women in Afghanistan, but they’re actually the boss at home, that’s at least the case of the majority. There are for sure some exceptional cases, like everywhere else in this world, but it is misleading if we take that as indicative the whole country.

SCHEDULE:

  • 07 Aug, 20:00, DokuKino
  • 09 Aug, 14:00, DokuKino

Aboozar Amini will be present at both screenings for post-film Q&A.

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