Quinzaine des Réalisateurs | 2019
Shahrbanoo Sadat: "I like to see my cinema a free daughter of cinema verite, a real fictional world where I decide what happens and what doesn’t."
The Orphanage (Parwareshgah)
In the late 1980’s, 15-year-old Qodrat lives in the streets of Kabul and sells cinema tickets on the black market. He is a big Bollywood fan and he daydreams himself in some of his favorite movie scenes. One day, the Police bring him to the Soviet orphanage. But in Kabul, the political situation is changing. Qodrat and all the children want to defend their home.
Hi Shahrbanoo how does it feel to be back at Quinzaine Realisateurs with your second feature The Orphanage?
It feels going back home. It is my third time being there. One time with my short film VICE VERSA ONE (2011), then with WOLF AND SHEEP (2016) and now with THE ORPHANAGE. (2019) The funny thing is every time I am there, there is a new artistic director and they all love my work. I’m proud of it.
Your debut feature, Wolf and Sheep, won the top prize at Quinzaine Realisateurs, what did it mean for you to win this award?
I felt as if I got paid for my work twice.
Back in 2010 you were also the youngest ever filmmaker selected for the Cinéfoundation Residence, what was this experience like for you?
It was absolutely one of the most important experiences in my carrier. Cinefondation opened the door for me to enter the European cinema industry.
What were the most important lessons you learned from your time at the Cinéfoundation Residence?
That developing the script doesn’t mean you have to work non-stop on the script. It’s also very important you feed your brain and get some break in between. Maybe in my case, I took too much break when I was there. I didn’t write a word but watched many films during my stay that I think was very helpful to me later.
With this being your World Premiere does it add any extra pressure on you?
I think it’s not the world premiere that is stressful but closing a film that is always stressful. You have to lock many things at the same time and there is the fear of making mistake somewhere that remains there forever. Staying focus and concentrated on the kind of very last moment of finishing the project is stressful. At least for me. I am in Europe since October last year and before I was in Tajikistan for months to prepare and to shoot and now I just want to go back to my home and be with my family.
Will you get any nerves ahead of the festival?
No, I’m not that type! I’m actually very looking forward to it.
How soon after reading Anwar Hashimi story did you realise you wanted to turn the story into a film?
If I am not exaggerating it, it was after the first few paragraphs. It was so obvious to me that I have to make something with his text.
What was it about Anwar Hashimi story that spoke to you as a filmmaker?
His honest, simple, personal, political, poetic, taking no side point of view that hunted my body and soul!
Could you tell us a little bit about The Orphanage, how did this film come about?
The late 80s, in Kabul, Qodrat, 15 years old, a street child, selling cinema ticket in the black market for Bollywood movies. He is a fan and doesn’t miss any film. One day the police catch him and he ends up in the one and only Soviet orphanage in Kabul, where he goes to school, he takes Russian class and he even visits Moscow and meets Lenin, the mummy in his mausoleum during a pioneer summer camp.
While Qodrat lives his everyday life in the orphanage, there is Afghan-Soviet war all over the country. The only peaceful place left in Kabul. Soon Soviet troops leave the country and Mujahideen who fight against Afghan pro-soviet government and Soviets for almost 10 years, take the power. They occupy Kabul and before everything else they start with taking governmental places one after another. One group enters the orphanage and Qodrat and children have to face them.
The story is inspired by memories of my close friend Anwar Hashimi from the 8 years of his life (1984-1992) in the orphanage. During the film Qodrat daydreams and imagines himself in the Bollywood scenes where he lip-syncs the songs in Hindi-Urdu and expresses his feelings he doesn’t in his real life.
This is the second part of your pentalogy how does the film follow from Wolf and Sheep?
In WOLF AND SHEEP, Qodrat, 11, shepherd, lives in rural parts of Afghanistan, after his father passed away and her mother gets married with a new man who doesn’t want Qodrat and his siblings, Qodrat stepsister who lives in town comes and takes them with her to Kabul.
In THE ORPHANAGE, we follow Qodrat’s life who is now 15, in the orphanage in Kabul.
*By the way, there is another part in between these 2 parts, the time he lives with the stepsister in Kabul before he ends up in the street. I am writing this part at the moment.
What is the hardest part of bringing life to life?
I feel a little bit alone when it comes to the art department. There are not that many references for Afghanistan before the 90s. What the world knows about Afghanistan is only the Taliban mostly. For example, when I talked to some possible crew about the costume they gave me references from Soviet countries but Afghanistan was never part of the Soviet Union but it had the pro-soviet state. Things were not one to one to Moscow or other places in USSR. Do you know what I mean? In this case, I trust a local person to dig in the private albums or wedding tapes or things left from old time but then I should not expect that they know the job very well as there is no cinema industry in Afghanistan. Same for props, for decoration, for production design, etc… I am very difficult when it comes to this kind of stuff. I try my best to be very close to reality. It’s quite a challenge but on the other hand, I enjoy the process a lot.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
No, I had a different childhood. Cinema was very far away from my life. I started to think about making a film when I was 19.
How has your approach to film changed since your debut film?
Now I trust fiction cinema better. I believe more to create reality. Or maybe I just feel more confident about it. When I was working on WOLF AND SHEEP, truth and reality was very important to me. Of course, still they are but now I feel I can be freer and exploring the fictional world with respect to reality and truth. I like to see my cinema a free daughter of cinema verite, a real fictional world where I decide what happens and what doesn’t.
What’s the best advice you have been given?
To go back to Tajikistan and shot the film there. This was my advice to myself.
Do you have any advice for your fellow filmmaker?
Fight for your ideas and never give up and continue making films.
And finally, do you want people to take from The Orphanage?
I want people to see my version of Afghanistan. I want they to see something more than the clichés about Afghanistan.