Afghan Oscar contender aims to show more than war

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KABUL (Reuters Life!) - Afghanistan’s contender for the Oscars premiered on Thursday in a cinema once the site of pitched gunbattles, but its director wants viewers to see past the violence to the richness of Afghan culture and traditions.

“Black Tulip” explores the struggles of a Kabul family who set up a restaurant with an open-mic poetry corner, after the ouster of the hardline Taliban government in 2001.

“I didn’t want to focus just on the war. I wanted to tell a real story about the people who dream and who hope the way we do,” said director Sonia Nassery Cole in a statement.

“I wanted to celebrate the colors, the music, the culture, the traditions,” added the director, who was born in Afghanistan but fled in 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion. In 2002, she set up the Afghanistan World Foundation to support development in her homeland, and Black Tulip is her first feature-length film.

The movie screened at the Ariana cinema in the center of Kabul, which saw fierce fighting in January this year when suicide bombers unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks on the center of the capital.

Afghan singers performed before the showing of a film that depicts the rhythm of ordinary life in a city where the drone of helicopters is as familiar as the call to prayer -- but many residents are more preoccupied with problems of daily life, like schools, jobs and families, than with the war.

“The movie is incredible in general, it is a great production and it keeps you interested,” said Masood Hashimi, an Afghan film-maker at the premier.

Cole said making it to Kabul, and getting that response, meant more than any award.

“I came here in the middle of the war, shot a movie and nobody got hurt. I ... brought it back here and here everybody is watching it tonight. That is my Oscar,” she told Reuters.

Reporting by Samar Zwak; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait