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The Beauty Academy of Kabul (recensione)

tr. it. della Dichiarazione di Liz Mermin

 


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Liz Mermin (website)

The Beauty Academy of Kabul (website)

Intervista a Liz Mermin, regista e produttrice di
The Beauty Academy of Kabul.

(febbraio 2005)

di Donatella Massara
versione inglese


Interview to Liz Mermin director to The Beauty Academy of Kabul

1) I would like to know how you estimate the promotion of your film?
Mi piacerebbe sapere come stimi la promozione di The Beauty Academy of Kabul


Il 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?

We've had 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.

3) 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 seriously >>.
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.

7) Have you had a teacher, a director, a woman in the history of cinema who has influenced you ?

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.