Dutch-Afghan director Aboozar Amini’s IDFA opening film Kabul, City in the Wind, world premiering at the festival, was shot across the Afghan capital over three years from 2015, one of the deadliest periods in the country’s recent history. But viewers don’t see a single frame of violence on the big screen.
Amini has chosen instead to focus on the human side of Kabul through the personal stories of loquacious bus driver Abbas, whose happy-go-lucky exterior conceals a darker side, and resilient young brothers Afshin and Benjamin, who somehow manage to retain a childish sense of fun in the shadow of never-ending danger.
“I made 15 trips to Kabul. Every time I was there I was lucky to survive one or two suicide bomb incidents. All I could do was just follow some basic security measures, like the ones Afshin’s father advises in the film: avoid crowded areas and don’t go to see when something has happened because these are the moments when suicide bombers will explode themselves,” Amini recounts.
“In July 2016 I was present at the big demonstration in Deh Mazang Square when two big suicide bombs were detonated, killing 86 people and injuring 400. I saw violence. I saw half of a person’s body, or a head only… people I knew. People who had been shouting for peace the whole morning. It was horrible. This was the moment I have decided not to show any form of violence in my film.”
The director produced the documentary through his Silk Road Film Salon company with Dutch-Chinese producer Jia Zhao. The Amsterdam-based production house focuses on stories and cross-regional film production along the ancient Silk Roads trade route connecting East and West, which also ran through Afghanistan.
Amini, who now lives mainly in the Netherlands, says his split cultural identity and childhood memories of life in Afghanistan inform all his work.
“I have spent more than the half of my life in Europe; in a way I’m more European than Afghan. But I remember my childhood very clearly. A time my Afghanistan was shattered by war. I remember the two big Buddhas blown up in my hometown of Bamiyan by the Taliban,” Amini recalls.
“I have this unique cultural background with a country which has been at war for the past 40 years, plus the right education in Europe. It would be a pity if I left it on a shelf and did nothing about it. There are many good filmmakers who work in Europe and make very good films, but none of them has the precious access to the topics and locations I have.”
Amini is now working on a low budget hybrid film called Ways to Run, spinning off Kabul, City in the Wind, and Cineaste, a Scheherazade-inspired fiction feature about a cinema lover condemned to death by the Taliban for running a small screening room, but who staves off his execution by showing them a new film every day.