She carefully drafts an illustration of a woman – hijab, large eyes and kind lips. Then, seemingly unhappy with it, she tears up the paper and starts again, drawing the same picture again and again until she falls asleep, dreaming of her lost mother until her father comes in from work to find her lying peacefully on the carpet.
It's a touching scene from 'Me and my mother', a short Afghan film, written by Halima Hasemi, a screenwriter at the Herat-based Simorgh Film Company.
Although the Afghan film industry was founded in the 1960s, it has never flourished like the neighbouring Bollywood and Lollywood industries in India and Pakistan have.
However, the Simorgh film and theatre company has produced nearly 100 short films, full-length features and plays, which have been shown worldwide. Part of the cultural reconstruction of the country, and with an emphasis on involving Afghan women, but members of Simorgh have already travelled to India and Germany to take part in shows and workshops, despite the company being almost completely self-funded.
“From early on I was very interested in cinema,” says Halima. “But when I started to work and became familiar with it; exploring our society and bringing to light the problems of women was what really encouraged me to continue.” Although her films have been shown all over Afghanistan and in neighbouring Iran, Halima says there's little money to be made when it comes to film.
“The movies we make don't have a big budget, because the Simorgh film company doesn't have a large amount of money to invest in their films. Up to now, all the films are being made with money from Simorgh. Unfortunately so far, we've received no help from the government or NGOs in this regard,” explains Halima.
Developing young talent
The company devotes a lot of its resources to training young Afghan men and women in writing, acting and editing. When we visit, a class of fifteen young women are busily cutting their first short features on computer software. Masooma, a budding screenwriter, tells us that the company prides itself on keeping everything in-house.
“When we finish writing the story, then we start filming. Everything that's related to the film, from editing to acting, is selected from Simorgh film students. Everyone here should be able to do everything by themselves,” says Masooma.
Financial and political challenges
There's a risk attached to making film and cinema however, and it doesn't just come from financial instability. Conservative elements in Afghan society have objected to some films, especially those depicting sensitive issues like women's rights. Creating a film industry is also not a priority for a government beleaguered with many other challenges. This means actors, writers and directors alike have to find support where they can, which is often primarily from their families.
“The first supporter should be your own self and the second will be your family,” says Housseine, a young actor who enjoys taking lead roles on the screen. “With this support anyone can be on stage. But the third should be support from the government.”
Artists like him hope that in the future, the government will be able to support Afghanistan's budding film and theatre industry, but for now, they look to other countries as an inspiration for what Afghan culture could become if given a chance at peace.