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Witness
Kabul at Work
Four ordinary Afghans share their reflections on their country in a refreshing look at Kabul at work rather than war.
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2010 15:49 GMT

 

By Oliver Englehart

Before starting work on my film, Kabul at Work, I had spent some time in Afghanistan where I met photojournalist David Gill. David had started the Kabul at Work multimedia project and asked me to collaborate through film.

As freelancers we were able to move around and speak to people relatively freely. We were fascinated by the extraordinary stories of ordinary people everywhere we went - from the butcher to the baker to the candlestick maker.

Of course not many people get to go to Afghanistan, so their understanding of the place comes from what they hear on the news, which focuses almost entirely on the war and its fallout.

This war, and previous ones over the last three decades, continue to affect every inhabitant of Afghanistan. You cannot escape that. Yet, despite and in spite of the turmoil, there are brave and fascinating people trying to get on with their lives and daily business.

It always strikes me when reading newspapers and watching the news, that what we hear about Afghanistan always comes from the politicians, the military, analysts and experts - everyone seems to have an opinion without ever knowing the answer.

But very rarely do we hear the voices of ordinary Afghans. There is no voiceover used in this documentary. Each of the four characters did a master interview and was filmed doing what they do. It is pure and simple.

The idea was to create a snapshot of life in Kabul - a human portrait of a city at work. The film is loosely structured around the course of a day, starting with the General as she gets up and goes to work, and finishing with the 95-year-old bonesetter closing the door as the sun goes down.

The theme of work - talking to people about their jobs and how they feel about them - was interesting in itself and I learnt lots about parachute jumping, sweetmaking, taekwondo and fixing bones. It was also a smooth segue into other facets of life and experience.

I think most people are at ease talking about their work and of course when filming an interview you want the subject to feel as comfortable and open as possible.

I never had any issues getting the subjects to open up and talk. In the West, most people are immediately cynical of the media - myself included. If someone puts a TV camera in my face in the street, I generally run a mile.

However, those featured in the film - having not really been exposed to mass media - were unabashed, which was great.

This is not to say that there are not other difficulties filming in Afghanistan: It is a desperately chaotic place with the odd bomb to boot. And it can be an intensely frustrating place to try and get things done - a shooting schedule is useless - but on the other hand, when things go right, when you hear a good story or capture a beautiful shot, it is even more rewarding.

While most Afghan women do not work outside the house, the film features two who do [David Gill]

People who watch the film will say that the two female subjects, the General in the Afghan National Army and the taekwondo champion are not representative of women in Afghanistan. This is entirely correct.

While in the cities there are an increasing number of women working, generally in the public sector, most women in Afghanistan do not work. They stay at home and manage the family.

But we wanted to include female subjects, so I am happy to give these women a platform, even if they are not the salt of the earth like the sweetmaker or the bonesetter.

I am pleased with the range of characters and jobs shown: A public servant in the General, industry in the sweetmaker, a sportswoman in the taekwondo champion and the bonesetter who provides a service to those who cannot afford a surgeon. We have a mixture of ages and also represent the Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara ethnicities.

It would be impossible to represent the huge diversity in Afghanistan in a short film but we have tried to tick at least some of the boxes.

I filmed with 15 different subjects before we chose the four who appear in this film. Amongst others, they were a young street hawker, a mathematical philosopher, a female presidential candidate, and Mr. Afghanistan 2009, who had a sideline teaching the UN how to drive their armoured cars.

Sadly, one of our finest contributors died of natural causes during the course of filming and so does not appear in the final documentary. He was the keeper of the Christian cemetery in Kabul. He was a lovely old man called Mr Rahimullah, who bemoaned that his community scorned him for keeping the graves of infidels.

He also had a great story, which he told with much zest, about how Mullah Omar had once come to the cemetery and tried to stop him doing his job. Rahimullah replied to Mullah Omar that he could not find other work because he was uneducated and "being uneducated he might as well be blind".

Realising that he might have offended Mullah Omar with this last comment, he ran away and took refuge on a hilltop from where he could see his cemetery. After three days he went back to business as usual.

Much of the unseen footage and interviews will appear on the kabulatwork.tv website, which is coming soon.

Kabul at Work can be seen from Tuesday, February 15, at the following times GMT: Tuesday: 2230; Wednesday: 0930; Thursday: 0330; Friday: 1630; Saturday: 2230; Sunday: 0930; Monday: 0330; Tuesday: 1630.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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