Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani believed she had completed filming earlier this summer on her second feature documentary Kabul melody, on a pioneering music school.
But instead of the hopeful ending she foresaw, the Taliban’s swift and violent return to power forced her to reconsider the film’s final act.
Mani presented the project as part of the Venice Production Bridge’s Venice Gap-Financing Market, which took place from September 3-5. She has had talks with a number of potential co-production and sales partners.
The project needs around € 150,000 to complete post-production, she says.
The filmmaker is the main producer under the banner of her former company Afghanistan Doc House based in Kabul, Farid Rezkalla at 24image in France and Stefano Centini at the Volosfilms base in Taiwan as co-producers.
Mani had started working on the film in 2015, following two girls who defy societal mores and risk their lives to study music at the Afghan National Institute of Music in Kabul.
“The school was close to where I lived in Kabul,” she explains. “It was quite exceptional because the boys and girls were studying together. In a city where every day you heard gunshots and the sound of violence, the melodies that came out of its enclosure were a huge contrast.
“I saw it as a kind of utopia. It made me dream of an Afghanistan where weapons would one day be replaced by instruments.
Mani had planned to end the documentary by showing how Afghan musicians took on teaching and management roles at the school, originally occupied by international staff who helped start the institution. “I thought it would be the story of my film, the story of building the country’s future,” explains the filmmaker.
“I was hoping that one of the girls in the school would end up becoming a teacher or occupying a key position. It would have been a huge event. Living in Afghanistan was not easy, but we were all working so hard to create some hope for our future and the next generation. “
But Mani’s plans have remained in tatters following the sudden rise to power in late August of the Taliban, whose fighters have since occupied the school and destroyed the instruments.
“I went to school a few days before the collapse and asked people about their plans and thoughts on the Taliban. No one believed they would come back to power. They said: “It is impossible”, then just after the president [Ashraf Ghani] fled the country and left everyone behind.
She plans to incorporate these events into the documentary and also hopes to reunite with some of the school’s alumni who, like her, have left Afghanistan.
“I would like to interview them about their experiences and the impact it had on them,” she says.
The edition in exile
Like many Afghan film professionals and artists, Mani fled his country when the Taliban took power and now lives in Europe. “Where I live is not the big question for me right now. My priority is rather to make ends meet and go to the editing room. I have a few editors in mind. At this point in my life, it doesn’t matter where they are, if they are in Germany, I will go to Germany. If they are in France, I will go there, ”she explains.
“I’m trying to finish it sooner. It is important to talk about what happened and this situation before it is too late and the world has moved on and forgotten.
Kabul melody is Mani’s second feature documentary following his 2019 job A thousand girls like me about a young woman who seeks justice after being sexually assaulted by her father for years. It has been screened at HotDocs, Sheffield, IDFA and won over 25 awards worldwide.