Five questions with Barmak Akram
(RM) Kabul-born director, producer and writer Barmak Akram has lived in Paris for years but despite being at home in Europe, he has not forgotten his native country, nor ceased to promote and talk about Afghanistan, in his films and other works.
Following a Sundance screenwriting award for An Aghan Love Story, the director of 2008 film Barmak Akram has travelled to Luxembourg for the European premiere of his latest film.
Wort.lu/en has met the director for an interview about An Afghan Love Story, filmed entirely in Afghanistan.
- What is the film An Afghan Love Story about?
This film talks about women and the unfair treatment they receive. I wanted to make a film that defends women's rights, but not to fill it with clichés. I wanted to produce a film that treats a universal issue - women's virginity. Why do we ask women to be a virgin before marriage? We never question men's virginity, whereas for women, it is mandatory to keep their virginity until they get married. My plan was to tell the story of a young girl from Afghanistan, but also to illustrate that Afghan society has indeed experienced progress and that it's becoming much more modern.
- What inspired you to make this film?
At the beginning of this project, I visited a hospital unit specialised in the treatment of patients with severe burns in order to investigate why women commit self-immolation. Such cases are more and more frequent and every year about 500 women set themselves on fire. Most of the times, these women had experienced deceptive love stories or had been forced to marry a man whom they didn't love. Such circumstances lead to more violence and scandal to which women can only answer with this sort of protests - self harm.
Another reason for writing and producing this film was given by the various forms of violence experienced by women. In the whole world, not only in Afghanistan, women experience violence caused by men. In France, every two days, a woman dies at the hands of a man. Also, some 300-400 hundred of women are being killed by their husbands or partners.
Violence experienced by women is the main theme of the ''An Afghan Love Story.
- Did you experience any challenges in filming An Afghan Love Story?
The main challenge in making the film were cost-related. When I started the film, I wasn't even sure I would be able to bring the project to conclusion. Towards the end of the film, I had to borrow money which was a major challenge. I also really wanted to make this film with Afghan money, which is to say, I did not want it to be a film financed by France or any other country.
I wanted An Afghan Love Story to be a 100% Afghan feature film which imposed a great challenge from a financial perspective. Since Afghan authorities don't invest money in the production of feature films, I was in charge with paying all the costs the film production process imposed.
- How many people were involved in producing the film?
Five people were part of the production team. Everyone in the film was in charge with several other duties besides acting or filming. The actor playing Mustafa, the male protagonist was responsible for the make-up, myself I was in charge with filming, directing, hair-dressing the cast and cooking meals for the team. Other team members were driving or helping me out when necessary.
It's also important to note that working with such a small team made the filming experience more pleasant and intimate. This aspect was very important for the cast among which some weren't professional actors or had little acting experience. No one was stressed since the the team was small but very well coordinated.
- Do protagonists Mustafa and Wajma, portray the image of two average young people from Afghanistan?
Absolutely, both Mustafa and Wajma illustrate the profile of two ordinary young people who, amongst many youngsters nowadays in Afghanistan, can easily communicate over the phone before marriage. Technology changes the traditional way through which Afghans were used to experience love and relationships. Today, young men and women don't need permission from their families to communicate, they can do it with the aid of technology which sometimes leads to short-term relationships that end with a pregnancy for the girl, as in the case of Wajma.
As part of its European premiere, the second festival screening of An Afghan Love Story takes place at Cinémathèque on March 4 at 6.30pm in the presence of director Barmak Akram.