Cinema of Afghanistan

Cinema entered Afghanistan at the beginning of the 20th century. The political changes of Afghanistan have not allowed the cinema of the country to grow over the years. However, numerous Pashto and Dari films have been made both inside and outside Afghanistan throughout the 20th century. The cinema of Afghanistan entered a new phase in 2001.


Emir Habibullah Khan (reigned 1901–1919) introduced film to Afghanistan, but in the royal court only. In 1923-24, the first projector - "magic box" or "mageek lantan" (magic lantern) - showed the first silent film in Paghman to the public. The first Afghan film, "Love and Friendship", was produced in 1946.[1]

When the fledgling Afghan Film was opened in 1968 it produced documentaries and news films highlighting the official meetings and conferences of the government. All these films were shown in cinemas before feature films, which were usually from India. The first feature film made in Kabul by Afghan Film using Afghan artists was 'Like Eagles' starring Zahir Waida and a young girl named Najia. Soon after this Afghan Film made a three-part film with the collective title 'Ages', which comprised 'Smugglers', 'Suitors' and 'Friday Night'. Two other films from the same era are 'Village Tunes' and 'Difficult Days'. All of these films were shot in black and white. Film artists of this era included Khan Aqa Soroor, Rafeeq Saadiq, Azizullah Hadaf, Mashal Honaryar and Parvin Sanatgar.

The first color films produced by Afghan Film in the early 1980s were 'Run Away' (Faraar), 'Love Epic' (Hamaasa e Ishg), 'Saboor Soldier'(Saboor Sarbaaz), 'Ash' (Khakestar), 'Last Wishes' (Akharin Arezo) and 'Migrating Birds' (Paranda Mohajer). These films, although not as technically proficient as those from abroad, struck a chord with Afghans because they mirrored their life. However, cinema was still seen only in the larger centres.

During the late 1960s and 1970s Soviet aid included cultural training and scholarships were offered to students interested in studying film. However, since Afghanistan had no film academy, future filmmakers had to apprentice on the job. The civil wars of the 1990s were not conducive to creative work and many people working in the Afghan film industry escaped to Iran or Pakistan, where they were able to make videos for NGOs.

When the Taliban took power in 1996, cinemas were attacked and many films were burnt. The Taliban forbade the viewing of television and films and cinemas were closed, either becoming tea shops or restaurants or falling into a state of disrepair.[2] Habibullah Ali of Afghan Film hid thousands of films, buried underground or in hidden rooms, to prevent their destruction by the Taliban.[3] Teardrops was the first post-Taliban film in 2002, and the first film since Oruj in 1995.[4] On November 19, 2001, Bakhtar was the first cinema to re-open its doors, where thousands of people entered that day.[5]

Afghan Film Organization

Afghan Film also known as Afghan Film Organization (AFO) is Afghanistan's state-run film company. It was established in 1968 and the current president is Sahraa Karimi, the first female head of the organisation.[6]


Since 2001, the cinema of Afghanistan has slowly started to re-emerge from a lengthy period of silence. Before the September 11th attacks, Afghanistan-based Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf attracted world attention to Afghanistan with his celebrated movie, Kandahar. It was an attempt to tell the world about a forgotten country. The film brought the cinema of Afghanistan to the Cannes film festival for the first time in history. Later Samira Makhmalbaf, Siddiq Barmak, Razi Mohebi, Horace Shansab, Yassamin Maleknasr and Abolfazl Jalili made a significant contribution to Dari (Persian) cinema in Afghanistan.

Barmak's first Persian/Pashtu film Osama (2003) won several awards at film festivals in Cannes and London. Siddiq Barmak is also director of the Afghan Children Education Movement (ACEM), an association that promotes literacy, culture and the arts, founded by Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The school trains actors and directors for the emerging cinema of Afghanistan. In 2006 Afghanistan joined the Central Asian and Southern Caucasus Film Festivals Confederation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was not difficult to get women to act in films. The war and the Taliban rule changed the situation. Today women are increasingly represented in the cinema of Afghanistan. Talented actors like Leena Alam, Amina Jafari, Saba Sahar (now also a director) and Marina Gulbahari have emerged over the last decade.

Apart from cinema in Persian, Pashto cinema is also flourishing in Afghanistan. Several Pashto language films have been made since the fall of the Taliban. Several Pashto films have been made by foreigners like Good Morning Afghanistan (2003) by Camilla Nielsson.


There are a number of films produced both inside and outside Afghanistan that are considered B-movies due to the low production quality and audience reach. These films are targeted mainly at an Afghan audience and rarely make it to the non-Afghan audiences or the international film festivals.

Outside Afghanistan

Since many filmmakers escaped the country due to the wars, they began to make films outside Afghanistan. Some notable films made outside Afghanistan include "Shirin Gul-o-Shir Agha" trilogy made in Russia, Foreign Land, "Sheraghai Daghalbaaz", "In The Wrong Hands", "Shade of Fire", (Asheyana) London (khana Badosh) London (Do Atash) Holland (Waris) Holland 3 Friends, "Al Qarem" in United States, "Shekast" in Pakistan, "Aftaab e Bighroob" in Tajikistan Kidnapping in Germany and in Italy "Gridami" by Razi Mohebi.

Most notable of all were Academy-Award submission FireDancer and France-based film Khakestar-o-khak.

Foreign films

Many foreign films were made within Afghanistan, including Hindi films like Feroz Khan's Dharmatma and Khuda Gawah, and the American film The Beast.

Since the fall of the Taliban, films made in or relating to Afghanistan have been made including; Kabul Express, Escape From Taliban and British Film In This World.

The Hollywood-produced The Kite Runner, which earned a nomination in the 80th Academy Awards for "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score". The film also received positive reviews.

Notable individuals



Notable films

These films have had either theatrical distribution or won awards at prestigious film festivals. They also appear on IMBD's Most popular list.[7]

Feature films

Zolykha's Secret (2007), (Rahze Zolykha in Persian) is also among the first feature films from post-Taliban Afghanistan. Lyrical and tragic, the film has played to full houses at major film festivals. The film's director, Horace Ahmad Shansab, trained young Afghan filmmakers and made the film entirely on location in Afghanistan.

Emaan (2010), After a long wait, EMAAN film was finally screened at Reading Cinemas in Australia. This is the first time an Afghan Film to be screened at a Cinema. It was the winner of 2011 South Asian Film Festival (Canberra Australia) for Best Story and Best Film.

Short films

Documentary films

Documentaries have been made in Afghanistan since the Taliban, most notably 16 Days in Afghanistan by Mithaq Kazimi and Postcards from Tora Bora by Wazhmah Osman. The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan a documentary shot by award-winning British director Phil Grabsky was released in 2001 and went on to win awards worldwide. There is also a monthly magazine, Theme, that is published by Afghan Cinema Club that focuses on Afghan and international cinema.[10]

Highest grossing

The highest grossing Afghan film is Osama earning $3,800,000 worldwide from a budget of only $46,000. The film was very well received by the Western cinematic world. It gathered a rating of 96% based on 100 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes.

See also


  1. "3continents - Programme 2004". 17 June 2005. Archived from the original on 17 June 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  2. "Return of the Afghan cinema". 22 April 2018. Retrieved 22 April 2018 via
  3. Sharf, Zack (14 September 2017). "7,000 Afghan Films Hidden From the Taliban Are Now Being Saved and Digitized". Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  5. "Kabul goes film crazy". 19 November 2001. Retrieved 22 April 2018 via
  6. Atakpal, Haseba (19 May 2019). "Sahraa Karimi To Lead Afghan Film As First Female Chairperson". TOLOnews. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  7. "IMDb: Most Popular Titles With Country of Origin Afghanistan". IMDb. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  8. "Osama". 27 June 2003. Retrieved 22 April 2018 via
  9. "Syngué sabour, pierre de patience". Retrieved 22 April 2018 via
  10. نژاد, سیروس علی. "تم، مجله سینمایی افغانستان". BBC Persian. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
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