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Article on the film 'Tschadari & Buz Kaschi - Afghan Women Today'

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 21 December 1989 / No. 297

A woman among women in Afghanistan

Only a woman could have shot this film, through which the german director and art teacher, Elke Jonigkeit, tried to describe the life of afghan women: Only a woman is able to enter a world, that would always be hidden to the male visitor, even if he is staying long in the country, and only a woman can involve muslim students, mothers, and female workers in conversations, that were so loose, open and often happy, as those who were shown in the film. Elke Jonigkeit stayed two years in Afghanistan and among the afghan refugees in Pakistan -before the withdrawal of the sowjet forces - and the perceptible patience of the director that was present all the time, her will to find out about things as unbiased as possible, that raises her documentary far above the many short-breathed reports about this theme, like those who are satisfied to deplore the oppression and the lack of emancipation with a very arrogant attitude, in short terms : the lack of free thinking among women in afghanistan.

It is not, that the director had given up on presenting the contrasts and the harsh realities in this country. The title of the report - 'Tschadari and Buzkaschi' - already refers to the opposition between two worlds : the world of women, protected and captivated, visible and invisible, behind the veil (tschador), and the world of Buzkaschi, the riding-games of men, the world of pride and hardness, in which an enemy must be fought to death.

Elke Jonigkeit has always made this antagonism distinct: after interviews after scenes with children playing or after long camerashots in the barren beauty of the afghan landscape, spinning helicopters, clattering military tanks and young, crippled men reminded again and again of the absolut different predominated, islamic and very manly, world of war.

It would have been easy to drift into cliche´s with so much clarity of contrasts, to degrade afghan men as 'hostile towards women' , or to approve of the superficial modernism of sowjet occupants. Elke Jonigkeit escaped that danger, by letting women - as well as men - have their say, she reframed from suspicious questions and made it possible, that the people in front of the camera could maintain their dignity. Her presentation of women, who achieved in sowjet-dominated Kabul a certain materialistic independence; she wasn't satisfied with simple pictures of the proud female paid-worker, but quite often she found, unrest of the uprooted people, behind the self-conscious glance of the emancipated woman, who were adjustable and politically easy controlable, and who were living in the bleakness of the suburban-leaving-mashinery, longing for warmth and security, and also the slight anarchy of traditional families. The conversations with women in the pakistanian refugeecamps on the other hand made it clear, that forced indoctrination is not a privilege of the government in Kabul and that the return of "fundamentalistic" muslim traditions signify first of all oppression and restriction.

Impressive how Elke Jonigkeit tried to grasp the atmosphere of the country with few discribeable words: during an interview the camera skimmed over the landscape again and again, seized a mountain, a person or a part of a street and therefore helped the viewer to obtain the feeling, that always overcomes an interviewer: of loosing concentration, the light, pleasant giddiness, that maybe leaves a few statements unnoticed or some details ignored, but which is not less than the willingness to be effected by a country, an atmosphere, and which is often incomparably deeper stored by memory, as the minutes of tensed attentiveness.
ARD (First German TV Program), 19.Dec. 1989.

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