Take Two

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Picture This: Capturing Afghanistan's cinema culture (photos)

by Take Two

Moviegoers watch a Pakistani film at Pamir Cinema in the old city of Kabul, November 2010. Jonathan Saruk/Reportage by Getty Images

Photographer Jonathan Saruk was embedded with the military in Afghanistan when he noticed a few movie theaters in Kabul slowly reopening. Under the Taliban, movies were banned, so when he started seeing people going back to the movies he pulled out his camera.

As part of our ongoing series, Picture This, we talk to him about documenting film culture in Afghanistan's capital city.  

Interview Highlights

On the role movies play in Afghanistan's culture:
"It's just as popular, one might say. We, in a more cosmopolitan city of Kabul, probably have half a dozen movie theaters in the city and they play the latest Pakistani and Indian films. In the Taliban years it was banned, so I think as soon as they were forced out, there was a resurgence of people going back to the theaters again."

RELATED: AudioVision: See more of Jonathan Saruk's Afghanistan cinema photos

On what kind of people are going to the cinema in Afghanistan:
"Generally speaking, Friday is the big day off in Afghanistan, so if you go on a Friday afternoon it's generally packed with young men. If you go on off-days, kind of there rest of the week, you see kind of more unemployed older men, there's always young men, but that's primarily the crowd there…In the many times I went to the movie theater, I never once saw a woman. I inquired about this. You get a variety of excuses, mostly having to do with security and I think generally speaking it's a cultural taboo."

On the people he photographed at the theaters:
"With regards to the audience, it was difficult to speak to many of them, but the projectionist I got to spend quite a bit of time with. It's a wide variety of people. There was a pair of brothers and their father who were the projectionists on the Pamir movie theater, so this has been passed down to his sons. It's a skill set. I met another projectionist at the Ariana Cinema, who actually flew up to Pakistan during the civil war and worked in a matchstick factory in Kashmir, and was eventually able to come back to Kabul after the Taliban fell. He was one of the civil projectionist who rushed in to try to get the movie theaters back up and running."

On whether American films are shown:
"Occasionally. I never actually got to see one in the movie theater while it was playing, but last time I was there, there was some Angelina Jolie action flick that was playing at one movie theater. They do come up. I think it was "Salt." I think, generally speaking, it's more expensive to come by so the vast majority are from Pakistan and India, and are those Bollywood-type of films."

On the image of dancing audience members:
"Yes, it was rather shocking. The first time it happened I was at the Pamir theater in the old city of Kabul and it was Friday afternoon. It was a really rowdy crowd and suddenly when one of dance sequence happens, which is common of Bollywood and Pakistani type films, and a few teenagers got up and started dancing. It was fantastic to see." 

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