Siddiq Barmak’s OSAMA is the first film made in Afghanistan since the fall of the

Taliban. Here he talks about his painful journey to get it made. Words: Tom Dawson

nder the extremist rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 1990s. television. photography and films were all banned. The country‘s cinemas were closed down. and in some cases converted into mosques and religious schools. Reels of 35mm film were burnt in public. The director Siddiq Barmak. then head of the Afghan Film Organisation. fled the capital city Kabul with his family. and made documentaries for the Northern Alliance before heading into exile in Pakistan. ()n his return to his homeland in 200] after the fall of the Taliban. he vowed to make a feature about ‘those who had never had the opportunity to escape from this horror and terror’. ()sama. the film in question. tells the story of a young girl in Taliban-ruled Kabul whose mother

disguises her as a boy so that at least one member of

the family can earn money for food. The fortysomething Barmak says he was inspired by a real—life story that he read in an Afghani newspaper published in Peshawar. ‘lt was about a little girl who was eager to go to school. but the school was for boys. She decided to cut her hair and dress like a boy. but she was recognised by the Talib police. I was struck by the fact that she thought the only solution to her problems was to pretend to be a boy.‘ War-ravaged. post-Taliban Kabul was hardly a straightforward place to make a film. There was no equipment. or professional technicians. and in Barmak‘s words. ‘the mentality of the people had been destroyed‘. But the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf happened to be scouting locations in Afghanistan with his daughter Samira for her film AI Five in the Afternoon. ‘I told him my dreams about making this story.‘ says Barmak. who studied film at Moscow University in the early 1980s. ‘And he was moved and excited and he said. “Why haven't you started it yet?“ I told him about the financial difficulties and the lack of producer and how the government couldn‘t support us. He promised to act

26 THE LIST 5; -l‘.) Fol) 9004


as the producer and gave me Sl()().()()() to start.‘

Finding an entire cast of non—professionals also proved problematic. Many ordinary Afghanis associated filmmaking with singing and dancing Bollywood extravaganzas. and on top of this Barmak did not wish to reveal too much about his film‘s storyline. ‘I wanted the acting to be about their reactions to events. so things had to be a surprise.‘

He found his young lead Marina (iolbahari begging outside the very Kabul cinema to which he’d

been taken as a live-year-old to watch Lawrence of

Arabia. Marina didn‘t know what a film was and had never even watched TV. She was very close to the role. She‘d lost her sister under the Taliban and her father had been arrested. Naturally she was scared.‘

()riginally Barmak's film was to have been called Rainbow. but watching the rushes he felt that title didn‘t fit such a tragic work. ()sama. he reveals. is actually a female name in the Arabic language and only became popular during the Taliban‘s rule. ‘In my film. if you notice nobody has their own name they have lost their identity. I wanted a name that would create fear. and of course it‘s the name of a man in real-life who‘s behind so much terror and horror.‘

So how surprised is he that Osama should have received such international acclaim'.’ ‘I never dreamed it would be a huge success.‘ he replies. ‘But I wanted to show the film to the world. because the people of the world have not had a complete picture of Afghanistan. They are seeing it from the point of view of the West. not of Afghanis. I wanted to tell them about the deepness of the tragedy and what has happened. This problem doesn‘t just belong to Afghanistan. l‘anaticism and extremism and fascism are the problems of the world.’

Osama opens at the GFT, Glasgow on Fri 13 Feb and the Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 20 Feb. See review, page 29.

Lights, camera, action!

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THE ISLE OF MULL MAY NOT BE the first place you think to go looking for the next generation of musicians and promo filmmakers. but a rather fine collection of pop videos turned up on the film desk this week. Collectively titled ‘The Mull Scene'. these three short films are produced by An Tobar. the Tobermory Arts Centre. Shot in black and white at many of the exact locations of probably the greatest Scottish film ever made / Know Where I'm Going! this collection is well worth checking out. Released on Tob Records. both DVD and VHS formats are available for £6.99 from www.musicscotlandcom or by contacting An Tobar or telephone: 01688 302211.

THE MATRIX JUST GOT A whole lot bigger at Glasgow Science Centre from 19 February. Rough Cuts has teamed up with Glasgow Science Centre’s IMAX Cinema to offer ten lucky readers the chance to win a pair of tickets to see Matrix Revolutions on Scotland’s largest cinema screen. To get a pair of tickets, send an email to by no later than 18 February 2004. Please include a daytime phone number and postal address. Usual List rules apply. For regular bookings please call 0141 420 5000.

THE WRITERS' FACTORY lS launching two new courses in screenwriting this month at Napier University in Edinburgh and Strathclyde University in Glasgow. For further information about the Writers' FactOry and the Introduction to Screenwriting course please contact Mark Grindle. Writers' Fact0ry Coordinator. tel 1786 821 570. email: or Scottish Screen Training or tel: 0141 302 1766. email: