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Afghanistan's Love Of The Big Screen

Posted: November 27, 2012

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Unless you've been to Afghanistan, your imagination probably conjures up a pretty bleak picture of what has been a war-torn country for decades. Photographer Jonathan Saruk hopes to change that.

A young Afghan boy looks at movie posters outside Temorshahee Cinema in Kabul. Going to the movies, once banned under the Taliban, has become a popular form of entertainment in Kabul, but women and children rarely take part.

A young Afghan boy looks at movie posters outside Temorshahee Cinema in Kabul. Going to the movies, once banned under the Taliban, has become a popular form of entertainment in Kabul, but women and children rarely take part. Jonathan Saruk

Park Cinema in Kabul

Park Cinema in Kabul Jonathan Saruk

Movie posters outside of Pamir Cinema in Kabul.

Movie posters outside of Pamir Cinema in Kabul. Jonathan Saruk

The ticket office at the entrance to Kabul's Ariana Cinema.

The ticket office at the entrance to Kabul's Ariana Cinema. Jonathan Saruk

The box office at Pamir Cinema

The box office at Pamir Cinema Jonathan Saruk

The audience at Pamir Cinema in Kabul watches a Pakistani film.

The audience at Pamir Cinema in Kabul watches a Pakistani film. Jonathan Saruk

A concessions vendor at work in Pamir Cinema.

A concessions vendor at work in Pamir Cinema. Jonathan Saruk

A projectionist at work at Temorshahee Cinema in Kabul.

A projectionist at work at Temorshahee Cinema in Kabul. Jonathan Saruk

The audience at Pamir Cinema in Kabul watches a Pakistani film

The audience at Pamir Cinema in Kabul watches a Pakistani film Jonathan Saruk

Unless you've been to Afghanistan, your imagination probably conjures up a pretty bleak picture of what has been a war-torn country for decades. Photographer Jonathan Saruk hopes to change that.

"It is important for people to know that while Afghanistan is a war-torn country with a plethora of difficult issues it must overcome," he says, "people there still live, work and occasionally try to have fun."

Movies in Afghanistan were banned under the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 until 2001, and only in recent years has there been a little renaissance in theater culture.

According to Saruk, there are about a half-dozen operating theaters in the city. However, while the Western world is displacing projectionists with digital machinery, the technology used in Kabul is several decades old.

"The Afghan film industry is still in its nascence," Saruk writes in our correspondence, "and the majority of films shown in theaters come from Pakistan and India and are Bollywood style. There are occasionally American films, but they are the exception."

Most of the moviegoers, he says, are unemployed men. You won't see children. And you won't see many women — a signal that Afghanistan remains a very traditional, conservative society.

In an essay for Getty Images, Saruk paints a vivid picture:

"Match-heads flicker constantly, throwing flashes of light across the darkened theater as the men chain-smoke throughout the film. Cellphones ring, and men occasionally yell across the crowded room to locate friends. On stage a young boy dances with his hands raised in the air, illuminated by the projector, as his friends in the front of the audience cheer him on. Perhaps the only other place one sees such public jubilation by Afghan men is at weddings."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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