After escape, Afghan director mourns her ‘lost country’

PARIS (AP) — As a filmmaker, Shahrbanoo Sadat watched with fascination as Taliban fighters took over her city and terrified crowds animated the streets. But as an Afghan woman, she also watched the scene through another prism and knew: It was time to flee.

After her family’s harrowing escape from Kabul, Sadat is now warning world governments: “The Taliban is a terrorist group and the world should realize they are dangerous,” she told The Associated Press in Paris on Sunday.

“I’m losing my belief in democracy, in human rights, in women’s rights,” she said, because she feels that Western countries aren’t doing enough to defend these things in Afghanistan.

Sadat, whose first film “Wolf and Sheep” won an award linked to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and nine family members were among thousands of Afghans brought out by foreign governments before the last U.S. troops pulled out last week.

They spent 72 hours in line at the Kabul airport, fighting to get out. The first night, Afghan troops “were very aggressive, shooting from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m. We couldn’t go forward, even a few meters.” So the family tried another gate.

“We slept in a queue, moving every five minutes a few centimeters,” she said.

Taliban forces pulled out the corpses of 11 people who had been crushed to death in the desperate crowd, she said.

Once in France, she was taken to an abandoned building in a Paris suburb that the government hastily converted into temporary shelter for those fleeing Afghanistan.

“For three days, we were in complete quarantine so we couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t have internet,” she said. “When they released us, we had only two hours and I ran to the mobile shop to get a SIM card. But other people, they went to the Eiffel Tower,” she said.

“I was angry because … we lost a country and people seemed to me very careless,” thinking about tourism instead of their homeland, she said. “But on the other hand, we already lost it, so what is the point of crying?”

Sadat joined a protest Sunday by aid groups and others demanding that Western governments do more to help those left behind and put pressure on the Taliban. Some Afghans who have been struggling for years to get asylum joined the demonstration, along with those who recently arrived.

Sadat is worried about relatives still in Afghanistan — and about one of her actors, who stayed in his native Panjshir province to try to defend Afghanistan’s last remaining pocket of resistance to the Taliban, which stepped up its assault of the region Sunday.

The Taliban have sought to recast themselves as different from when they ruled in the 1990s, when they blocked women and girls from working and education and banned television and music. But many are skeptical that will hold true.

Sadat said differences were palpable before she left. She described a vendor refusing to sell her ice cream because Taliban fighters stood nearby — enjoying the same ice cream she was denied.

“They didn’t look at me but I looked at them … like a film director doing a casting,” she said. “But as an individual, I was so scared.”

Fellow female Afghan filmmakers who fled the Taliban begged the world not to forget the Afghan people, warning at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday that a country without culture will eventually lose its identity.

Sadat hopes to join her sister and partner in Germany, and revive work on her latest film, a romantic comedy. She remains determined to make films despite her exile.

“It’s important to talk about Afghanistan’s war from an Afghan perspective, and a feminine perspective,” she said.


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