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Foreign Policy

Conor Powell

Afghanistan

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Afghanistan’s Media Industry Slowly Growing

May 4, 2010 - 4:53 AM | by: Conor Powell

KABUL-Mujeeb Arez is equal parts explorer and teacher – and every Saturday night Afghans gather around their television sets to follow his adventures as he crisscrosses their war torn country.

“On the Road” is Afghanistan’s first travel show- but it is also something much more.

Each week, the 22-year old Mujeeb takes viewers to different parts of Afghanistan in order to show off examples of progress. One week he is showcasing a paved highway built along the historic Silk Road. The next week he is touring a power station in Kandahar. Along the way, Mujeeb tastes local foods, tries his hand at local games and talks to Afghans about their lives and history.

After 30 years of war, Mujeeb explains, many Afghans know very little about their own history outside of the wars.

“On the Road is an attempt to introduce them to their culture and country,” he said.

He also hopes it will both educate and inspire his countrymen.

The show is produced by TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest private TV station, and is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We want Afghans to be proud and help them identify as Afghans,” Jeremiah Carew said, a USAID employee.

“On the Road” and TOLO TV are examples in a small but rapidly growing media and entertainment industry beginning to thrive in Afghanistan after the Taliban banned just about anything that resembled entertainment. There are now more than two-dozen radio and TV stations broadcasting in several languages and despite the increasing violence, there is a growing film industry.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, dozens of documentaries have been made in Afghanistan. But while international filmmakers have flocked to Afghanistan to shoot documentaries, the feature films industry has struggled to take off.

There have been a few success stories, like the award winning film “Osama”, directed by the Afghan film maker Siddique Barmak, but by in large, the violence that plagues Afghanistan has stifled the industry. One movie about the Persian poet Rumi was shut down after its set was badly destroyed by a bomb blast at the nearby NATO headquarters.

Despite the violence the Afghan film industry is showing small but promising signs of progress.

Local Afghan filmmakers have finished shooting a James Bond inspired film named “Nijat.” While Afghan-American filmmaker Sonia Cole is putting on the final touches to “Black Tulip,” a film about life in the volatile country. And American filmmaker Sam French is preparing to shoot “Buzkashi Boys,” short coming of age film in Kabul later this summer.

“My hope is that this film can, in some small way help bridge the gap between what we see on the news and what I see here every day,” French said, who lives in Kabul.

“Although it explores universal themes, ‘Buzkashi Boys’ is a uniquely Afghan story and I know that I would never be able to recreate the settings and atmosphere anywhere else.”

French is also setting up a non-profit, ‘The Afghan Film Project’. The organization teaches Afghans the basics of filmmaking in hopes of encouraging a future generation of filmmakers in the country.

French and Mujeeb admit Afghanistan’s entertainment industry has a long way to go but both are encouraged by the significant progress made in recent years. And who knows, maybe their struggles will some day be the subject of a large Hollywood film.

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