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ARKIB : 24/07/2003

Mobile cinemas bring movie magic to Afghanistan's provinces

KABUL July 23 - For the second consecutive year, eight mobile cinemas are preparing to hit the roads of Afghanistan this week to bring educational films to nearly a million people across the country, giving many of them their first experience of movies.

``Last year, the mobile cinema attracted 450,000 people in six weeks. This year the goal is ambitious; we hope to attract 900,000 Afghans,'' project coordinator Nicolas Delloye told AFP.

Under the project, run by French organisation Aina, eight teams will spend five months criss-crossing the country, visiting about 200 villages each month.

Each team will be staffed by four Afghans from the regions to be visited and be equipped with a video projector, a five by three metre (16 foot by 10 foot) screen and an electric generator so as to be totally self-contained.

The three films to be screened, which are educational in nature, are domestic productions by Afghan Films, the national film production centre.

Each 30-minutes feature tackles a different theme: ``Our School'' by Ahad Zhwand is about the education of girls, ``The Afghan Cultural Heritage'' by Waheed Ramaqh is about the preservation of culture and Mirwais Rekab's ``The Voice of the Heart'' is about the conditions faced by musicians in Afghan society.

Most of the screenings in the villages will be in makeshift open air cinemas. Depending on the circumstances, and with the consent of local leaders, some screenings will be reserved for women only.

It is estimated that about 80 percent of the audience will be watching a film for the first time in their life. Films and most other forms of entertainment were banned under the Taliban's harsh 1996-2001 rule and, in any case, only six percent of Afghanistan's population has access to electricity.

``We remember witnessing roars of laughter and scenes of joy,'' Delloye said.

``Last year, we had just one incident out of 236 screenings - it was in Jalalabad over a film which dealt with health risks during pregnancy,'' he explained.

During the film a man pulled a gun and fired into the air, forcing the organisers to abandon the screening.

``This time the mobile cinema teams are avoiding the tribal zone in the northeast of the country, along the border with Pakistan,'' he said.

``At the moment it is not recommended to show films in certain areas of Afghanistan. We don't want to take risks for the local population or the teams.''

The regional network of Aina and Afghan Films takes care of promoting the travelling cinemas and the presentation of the programmes.

``It's a matter of restarting a machine which has not worked for the past 30 years,'' Delloye said.

``In the 60s and 70s, the teams travelled up and down the country to distribute films and information. But at that time they were liberally financed by the government ... The mobile cinema became a meeting place for the villagers who didn't have access to information. It is now resurrecting an Afghan tradition,'' he said.

Aina, which is promoting the development of independent media and culture in Afghanistan, plans to screen three new films each month.

``We hope to develop the programming according to the audiences' reactions,'' Delloye said.

The cost of the project, more than 35,000 US dollars, is being financed by the United Nations, the International Organisation for Migration, Britain's Department for International Development and the European Commission.

``When the various teams return to Kabul in October, we are planning to hold a street film festival, installing screens throughout the city,'' Delloye said. - AFP

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