At the start of the 20th century Afghanistan’s ruling elite had access to early cinema from Europe, as well as imports from India. The autocracy that followed independence in 1919 did not cultivate a national cinema and all forms of cultural production were subject to strict censorship. The country’s proximity and strong cultural links with Pakistan (and through to India) ensured that Hindi cinema predominated through the 1940s and 1950s, and the earliest Afghan feature film, Pakistani co-production, Eshq wa Dosti/Love and Friendship (Reshid Latif), was made as late as 1951. A number of documentaries and newsreels were made between 1950 and 1967, but it was not until the construction of the government-funded Afghan Film studios in Kabul in 1965 that a local film industry began to emerge. Production companies, including Nazir Film and Ariana Film, employed mainly Russian-trained filmmakers such as Khaleq A’lil, Rafiq Yahyaee, and Wali Latifi. Manand-e oqab/Like an Eagle (Khayr Zada, 1964), the three-part episode film, Rozgaran/Once Upon a Time (1968), and Mujasemeha Mekhandad/The Statues Are Laughing (Toryali Shafaq, 1976) are among the significant films made during this period. Under Soviet occupation (1979–89) film production was quickly centralized and geared towards production of propaganda, including Farar/Escape (1984) and Sabur-e sarbaz/Saboor, the Soldier (1985), both directed by renowned Afghan director ‘Engineer’ Latif Ahmadi. The ascendancy of the Taliban between 1996 and 2001 resulted in the outlawing of public film exhibition and the destruction of over 2,500 titles seized from the National Film Archive in Kabul (see film archive). During this period many filmmakers fled the country and very few films were made, though Uruj/Ascension (Noor Hashem Abir, 1995) is worthy of note. One estimate has it that no more than forty Afghan films were produced between 1951 and 2004 (most of them in the dominant language of Dari), and compared to its larger neighbours film production in Afghanistan is marginal and small-scale.
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