War and Love in Kabul, which is being screened at the One World festival of human rights documentaries in Prague, tells the Romeo and Juliet-like story of a couple who have loved one another since childhood but are prevented from living together because of social and religious conventions. Hossein has been left crippled after being recruited by the Taliban, while Shaima was sold into marriage to a man 40 years her senior. I spoke to the director of War and Love in Kabul, Helga Reidemeister, and first asked how she had ever found the subjects of such a personal story.
“Finding them was not very difficult because you have so many handicapped people in the centre of Kabul. There there’s a centre for orthopedic…handicapped people. There we found its founder Doctor Alberto, an Italian, who sent us with a physiotherapist in a Red Cross car around Kabul, where all his patients were still living with their families, not inside the hospital – they go there once a month or something like that.
“It was our wish to come as near to the people, in their families, in their houses, to get an idea of what the impact of 30 years of war is.”
Is your film to some extent a story about romantic love in a society where that is not necessarily the norm, where other ideas, perhaps more practical concerns when it comes to marriage, are the norm?
“You’re perfectly right that it is not the norm, but I think it’s also a little bit of a limitation of us as Europeans to deny that there are strong emancipation urges and needs, and that half of the fathers don’t dare to sell their daughters like cows.
“Within the Pashtun society it’s fifty-fifty, so I think the society is much more developed than what we imagine, and that was very…amazing for us.”
How did you as a filmmaker find filming in Kabul, in Afghanistan, in what I guess was a time of war?
“Well, it’s difficult for me to speak about our disgust…and also to see the change. We started in 2004, when for example the German ISAF soldiers were out of their jeeps, communicating with the people.
“Over the years it changed, amazing, the German ISAF soldiers for example are going at 80 miles an hour, they have to, to avoid roadside explosions. There’s no contact with the people. They just work for their own security. I mean, it’s crazy.
“So we as welcomed friends turned during the years into being foreigners, and also dangerous foreigners. And that was very painful.”
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