Kabuliwood shines a light on old cinema

  • An Afghan man peers past the door to the abandoned Aryob Cinema in Kabul. All photos Massoud Hossani / AFP
  • Mohammad Karim Aryobwal, 60, owner of the abandoned Aryob Cinema.
  • Qaisullah Aryobwal, son of Mohammad Karim Aryobwal who is the owner of the abandoned Aryob Cinema, walks in the hallway of his father's cinema.
  • Mohammad Karim Aryobwal, 60, owner of the abandoned Aryob Cinema, gives a tour of the property.
  • Mohammad Karim Aryobwal, with some of the dusty film reels.
  • Movie posters, portraits of actors, and film reels are pictured in the projection room of the abandoned Aryob Cinema.

September 3, 2013

Closed down after the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, the Aryub Cinemas bounced back after they left in 1988, only to be shut down by the Taliban. Once again the cinema reopened after the US invasion in 2001, but finally fell into darkness due to competition from television and the cost of imported films.

In its heyday it was one of the most glamourous destinations in Kabul; playing to packed houses of both men and women several times a day.

The long, grim years of the Taliban and the chaos that engulfed Afghanistan after, put paid to the Ayub Cinema  but now there is hope that it will once again become a place of entertainment.

It is a story of life imitating art, with  the French director, Louis Meunier originally visiting the city with the idea of making a film about a group of Afghan entertainers hoping to open a cultural centre.

While scouting for locations, Meunier, 34, came across the cinema, which had been dark since 2007.

Determined to return the building to its proper use, Meunier launched a crowd-funding campaign dubbed “Kabuliwood” with the aim of funding the film and repairing the cinema.

On the eve of  last Sunday’s deadline, donations finally reached the US$30,000 target needed to make both projects happen.

Meunier says that despite broken windows and peeling paint, the cinema is essentially sound, as is the projection equipment.

He first plans to shoot the film, using actors from Aftaab, an-all Afghan theatre troupe founded in Paris. “Once shooting is done, we will give the renovated cinema back to the local community and Kabul municipality, to be used as a cultural centre,” he says.

Opened in 1973, the Aryub Cinema featured an auditorium seating 900, with an upstairs balcony for women and offering up to eight performances a day.

It closed first during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, reopened after their departure in 1988 but was then promptly shut down by the Taliban, who banned all forms of entertainment.

Again, the cinema attempt to make a go of it after the American invasion in 2001 but gave up six years later, defeated not by the Russians or Islamic fundamentalists but the cost of imported foreign films and competition from television, says Qaisullah Aryobwal, the grandson of the founder, who recalls the cinema as a place of family entertainment for the whole city.

Among the currently-employed workers from the cinema, is Naser, the projectionist for 37 years.

“I was just a kid when I took the job and now I’ma white beard,” he says.

*James Langton

For more information on the project - Click here