to Liz Mermin director to The Beauty Academy of Kabul
I would like to know how you estimate the promotion of your film?
sapere come stimi la promozione di The Beauty Academy of Kabul
film è stato recepito bene nei Festival. Il film è stato alla BBC
e poiché l'abbiamo venduto insieme a incontri esterni alla visione, dopo
sono seguite lunghe discussioni; ho anche avuto alcune recensioni carine. The
film has been very well received in film festivals and on the BBC - we've had
sold-out screenings and long discussions afterwards, and some nice reviews. I've
been very pleased with the response. But it's hard distributing documentaries
in the US. The film was co-produced by the Discovery Channel, but they insisted
that I re-edit it into something boring and formulaic, with heavy narration and
an emphasis on conflict and suffering; so the version that showed in Milan last
fall has hardly been seen in the US. American TV executives, with a few exceptions,
assume that their viewers are stupid and have short attention spans, and refuse
to broadcast anything that might ask them to think. As for theatrical distribution,
it is hard to find a company willing to put up the publicity money necessary for
a documentary release - given that few documentaries, besides those of Michael
Moore, ever make money in theatres, a company really has to believe in a film
to get it into theatres. We've had a rough time on that front.
2) How has people of women been commenting the film?
a variety of responses to the film from women - from those who are very moved
by the beauty school and it's impact to those who are embarrassed to see women
engaged in this kind of project. But for the most part, I think the film generates
sympathy among women - even women who never thought much about beauty or hair
per se seem to be moved by the genuine commitment and enthusiasm of the Afghan
students. Afghan women seem to like the film a lot - we've been invited to be
a part of a few Afghan film series in the US & Afghan student groups have
been talking to us about organizing screenings. Obviously that means a lot to
me, I'd hate to have made a film that Afghan women didn't like. Though of course
there are those who would have liked more overt political content & critique,
but that would have been a very different film.
In a interview made by BBC we can red on BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/storyville/liz-mermin.shtml)
the journalist noticed that to create a Academy of beauty in Kabul << There
were certainly people who thought it was frivolous and an inappropriate thing
to be doing at that time seemed to focus on it being a bit too trivial to take
Have you found comments like this from the people who
have seen the film?
Only once have I had someone make a statement
like that at the end of a screening: a woman at a screening in Texas asked whether
we had any plans to do anything "useful" in Afghanistan now that the
beauty school was over. The rest of the audience was very annoyed. I think (hope)
that something happens when people watch the film - that you go in thinking that
it will be a film about a silly project with little impact and you come out with
a sense that little things can have a tremendous psychological impact on people's
lives. The beauty school in no way takes away from the presence of schools and
hospitals and food programs - the people funding the school wouldn't have funded
such things, as they're not part of their area of expertise. There's no reason
why you can't have projects that improve people's lifestyles while you're attending
to more basic needs. Attention to secondary things like style, fashion - some
might even include art & music in that category of non-essentials - is part
of what it means to be human. That said, I have met some male filmmakers who seemed
to find the subject was beneath contempt (none of them bothered to see the film).
4) In the same
interview you said <<The idea of a group of well-intentioned Americans popping
into Kabul and teaching woman about hair styles seemed irresistible. But when
I started talking to them I saw the other side of it, the business development
angle, and it seemed like less of a joke>>.
Have you some news about
the working choices of the students of Academy ?
I understand that
most of their businesses are going well, but I've been trying to get more details
without any luck. I hope to get back there this year to check up on them.
5) In 2001 you produced and directed "On Hostile Ground", a
documentary on health care people who become a target of law for abortion. Is
there a connection between yours first and second documentaries ?
Of course their both about women's issues, and about people taking risks, but
that's coincidental. The real connection is that they both take a personal, very
human approach to broader social issues. On Hostile Ground was about the psychology
of abortion doctors - why they do what they do, how it effects their lives. I
didn't ask them to make an argument about abortion. Similarly , Beauty Academy
is about the lived experience of women in Kabul & how they interact with women
from the west - it doesn't set out explicitly to ask about women's oppression
or imperialism or the war, but illuminates those issues through personal stories.
And both films raise as many questions as they answer - they are open-ended and
intended to be thought-provoking.
6) What did you have to learn to
shoot the documentarys film ?
For Beauty Academy I had to learn some
Farsi, and of course read quite a bit about Afghan history & culture. In general,
to make documentaries, I've learned every step of the process, from shooting to
sound recording to editing. I edit all my own films, but I prefer to have someone
more talented than I shooting (I find it hard to concentrate on getting the story
& getting the images at the same time for some reason). I had to learn how
to get people to talk, and how to be assertive about going after stories I wanted.
And I've had to learn how to make a budget and coordinate a shoot and all the
tedious aspects of producing (which I hate). And I've watched lots of movies -
documentary and fiction - to get ideas about style and approach.
Have you had a teacher, a director, a woman in the history of cinema who has influenced
The teachers who have influenced me in film haven't been women
I'm afraid - except for one husband-wife team, the ethnographic filmmakers David
& Judith MacDougal, whose films in Africa, Australia, & India manage to
tell intensely personal, humorous, human stories about people whose lives are
incredibly distant from ours. I like the formality of Chantal Ackerman, and her
attention to visual composition. I'm inspired by Errol Morris because his films
do the unexpected - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but he's not afraid
to take risks. And of course the films of Frederick Wiseman taught me a huge amount
about the power of observation. I like to combine all of these influences &
experiment with creating a style of my own - which I haven't yet achieved.
8) What about your next film?
I'm in India as I write this
shooting a demo reel for a film about the new generation of Indian elites - young,
ambitious, highly educated men & women who are doing very high-end work for
American & European companies. These are the people who will be running the
world in 20 years. The film asks who they are, what motivates them, how they see
the future, how they will balance the culture of global capital with the culture
of their parents, what they want from the world. I have a few other projects in
the works as well
and hope to make it back to Kabul soon.