Monday, January 30, 2023

Afghan Filmmaker Sahra Mani, in Venice With ‘Kabul Melody’ Project, Says Lives of Kabul Music School Students Are at Risk

Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani, who is at the Venice Film Festival gap financing market with the documentary “Kabul Melody,” says the lives of more than 150 students of Kabul’s National Institute of Music (ANIM) are at risk after armed Taliban guards shuttered the school and smashed all the musical instruments inside.

A few days after the Taliban occupied Kabul “they went to the school and smashed all the instruments,” says Mani who has been making a documentary about the school for the past five years and managed to leave Afghanistan before this happened.

But while some of the students at ANIM –– where the student body is roughly split evenly between young female and male musicians –– have succeeded in getting getting out of the country, most of them did not due to the fact that U.S. troops have pulled out of Kabul airport.

So now they “are hiding,” Mani said. That’s because “now the Taliban have access to their identity and passports and can find them, so they are at huge risk, as well as their families,” she added.

Mani cited the widely reported killing last week of Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi, who was dragged from his home and shot in the head by a Taliban fighter in a restive mountain province north of Kabul. She called that killing an alarm bell about the prospect of a return to the type of rule imposed in Afghanistan by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 when they last held power and banned most forms of music as un-Islamic.

“It’s a huge shame for humanity that someone got killed for playing an instrument,” she said. “We should not let that happen in our present-day civilization,” she added.

Furthermore, Mani pointed out that “we can’t just let young children get killed by the Taliban because they are music students.”

She went on to note that “women risk their lives twice as much because music has historically been forbidden for them culturally in Afghanistan.” Which is why some of the school’s female students were attending surreptitiously.

Ensembles from the school, including the all-female Zohra orchestra, mainly made up of girls and women from a Kabul orphanage aged between 13 and 20, have performed around the world from Carnegie Hall in New York to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“I think the girls from the Zohra orchestra are even more at risk,” said Mani, “because everybody knows them.”

They are the voice of the next generation of women in Afghanistan playing music and producing culture in a different way,” which makes them more of a target, she noted.

As for Mani’s doc, being pitched to film execs in Venice, until recently “Kabul Melody” doc was in final stages of production. But due to the Taliban takeover she’s going to have change its storyline.

“I would like to continue filming the students of the school wherever they are and would also like to find a way to continue filming the music school under silence, fear and danger during the Taliban occupation,” Mani said.



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