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December 6, 2001 Nelofer Pazira film gains worldwide notice



by Barbara Black

Nelofer Pazira is a master’s student in sociology, but in recent months, her studies have been overtaken by international fame. CTR’s repeated efforts to talk to the Afghani-born actress and journalist have met with failure: “Sorry, she’s in Tokyo,” “She’s in London this week,” “She just left for New York.”

Just yesterday morning, she was in Atlanta, Georgia, interviewed live on CNN by host Paula Zahn.

The reason is that several years ago, Pazira conceived an idea for a film based on her own efforts to find a childhood friend in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. She took her idea to a famous Iranian filmmaker, who made it into a film and used Pazira in the leading role.

While Kandahar is a fine film in itself, events in Afghanistan have catapulted it to international stardom, and Pazira is at the eye of the storm. On CNN, she said that she hoped the film would bring context that is missing from the general news reporting on Afghanistan and give viewers a glimpse of a corner of the world “that is very much part of humanity.”

Richard Schickel reviews Khandahar at length in the current issue of Time magazine, whose cover story is about the women of Afghanistan. He calls the film “beautiful and terrifying.”

Schickel writes, “What we get is a movie that is at once primitive and sophisticated, a near documentary that tells us much about harsh current reality, yet also often achieves moments of something akin to aesthetic bliss.”

When she came to Canada as a teenager with her family in 1990, Pazira left behind a friend who, like her, was an educated and emancipated young woman. As time went on, and life for women became almost impossible, her friend’s letters indicated that she was dangerously depressed.

In the film, this suicidal young woman becomes the leading character’s sister, and the search through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is a bleak, sometimes wildly beautiful exploration of a desperately poor and frightened society. Pazira made the film on location with Mohsen Makhmalbaf, but they ventured across the border of Afghanistan only briefly, because of the danger.

Pazira wrote a full-page essay in the Oct. 29 issue of Maclean’s magazine, not long after the start of the bombing of her native country.

In it, she bitterly recounts how Canadian journalists were uninterested when she tried to tell them, in her broken English, that the Pakistan-based mujahadeen forces – the future Taliban, supported by the West at that time – were no better than the Communist government. Now, the West claims to be saving Afghanistan from the people they so recently supported. “There was no need for a war to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban,” Pazira writes in Maclean’s. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could have destroyed the Taliban by cutting off their financial and military support.”

She continues, “At ground level, the Taliban are a group of hungry Afghan refugees, former mujahedeen forces, desperate Afghans who are indoctrinated with Saudi Wahabbi ideology, an extreme brand of Islam, and know nothing other than the pathology of warfare that they have experienced for 20 years.”

Kandahar was acclaimed at international film festivals in Montreal and Toronto when it was shown late this summer, and it has been playing here at ExCentris.