Shahrbanoo Sadat is a 20 year old Afghan woman, scriptwriter and director. She is based in Kabul. She studied documentary film-making at the “Atelier Varan Kabul” a French Workshop. Her first short fiction “Vice Versa One” was selected at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2011.
In 2013, she launched her production company “Wolf Pictures” in Kabul. Wolf and Sheep was developed with the Cannes Cinéfondation Residency in 2010: Sadat was the youngest filmmaker ever selected for the programme.
She is currently in development on The Orphanage, the second part of a series of films following the same character, which begins with Wolf and Sheep.
How did you develop the story for your first fiction feature, WOLF AND SHEEP? Why did you decide to focus on the young characters, Sediqa and Qodrat?
The story is based on my best friend’s childhood (Anwar Hashimi) and mine. I lived in the same kind of village in central Afghanistan for seven years between the age of 11 and 18 (from 2001-2008). I was not able to communicate with other kids, I couldn’t see properly as I need to wear glasses since I was born but no one knew that, not even myself; the first time I wore glasses, I was 18. On top of that, I spoke Persian and not Hazaragi like the people in central Afghanistan, because I was born in Tehran, Iran as an Afghan refugee. My family lived in Iran for many years as refugees, and after the events of 9/11 they moved back to Afghanistan, to their small and isolated village in central Afghanistan, where they were born.
I learnt so many things about the Afghan community from those seven years. When I was 18, I moved to Kabul and I met a guy who lived in the same village as I did, but in the 70s. Even though he was 18 years older than me, we turned out to be best friends, we had many things in common: he was also an outsider, he was born there in that village and when he was 8, he moved to the city, Kabul – the opposite of me that I moved from the big city Tehran to that small village.
In WOLF AND SHEEP, I imagine a fictional time that we both lived at the same time and we became friends, even if it’s only for very short time.
How did you find the young performers who play them? And did they have any influence on how you made the film? What did they think of the story?
I was casting for two years in central Afghanistan. I visited many schools and saw many kids, almost 2,000. As I always work with non-actors, they always influence the film. They play a big part, they play themselves, the way they talk, the way they look in everyday life. We didn’t use any make-up or any costume, everything was natural, coming from them.
They had no clue of the story. I explained them the story of each scene only before shooting of that scene, sometimes they put the scenes we shot in the order of shooting and they guessed something, but that was it.
Did they know about the Kashmir Wolf legend before the film?
Yes, they all knew the story. Everyone in central Afghanistan knows the story of the Kashmir wolf. Sometimes the versions are a bit different, as it’s a verbal story and no one ever writes it down, so people have the freedom to change, or add or delete some parts and make a new version of it.
What did their families think about the film? Were they around during shooting?
After I found the kids, I cast some of their family members too. When I shot the film, no grown ups were allowed be around the set. I always shot them separately except for the scenes where they have to be together.
How was it working with such young actors? How did you look after them on set? Did any of the other cast or crew have children with them – and if so, how was that?
It was not that difficult working with kids, I experienced the same in my short films. What’s nice about working with kids is that they are very simple. You have to make a good relationship with them and everything will be fine. They need to understand that you love them and you are looking to have fun with them, and they need to understand what you want from them.
I kept in my mind as a director that they are not actors, they don’t give a shit about film; they are kids and they want to have fun and if they are bored or their mood is off, they will destroy the scene. So I tried to shoot mostly in sequence plan and in one long take so they won’t have to do it again. Most of the time, they surprised me by saying something they were not supposed to: I laughed a lot while shooting.
Sediqa and Qodrat’s life is quite different from many children in the West. How have international viewers responded?
I think the film is very rich for my international audience. There are many things new for them. I keep receiving responses that it was a journey, or it was another world, or everything fresh. They mostly were surprised that women were not wearing burqas. People keep saying me that they experience a different version of Afghanistan has nothing to do with the clichés about Afghanistan they have seen and heard every day through the media or other films. That makes me happy.
Your film and your work challenge traditions about gender that still hold in rural Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world: what role can film play in making this challenge and making change?
The film has a very poor chance of being seen in Afghanistan: we have no real cinemas, and cultural places like French Institute don’t do screenings anymore because of the high security risks.
I think it makes change maybe not for the Afghan audience but for Afghans who worked on the film, like my cast for example. The film gave the chance to 38 Afghans who had never travelled before to go to Tajikistan and be with international people for 2 months, experiencing a completely different life compared to their everyday life. This means a lot and it has the potential to change the direction of kids’ lives. The kids saw that the director is a woman, the producer, the DOP, the sound, the line producer, the first assistant director are all women.
We look like super heroes to the kids and I loved that, because they could see that reality is not supposed to be like their routine and it can be a completely different thing.
Is there anyone who has become a role model for you – and why? What has inspired or shaped the way that you work?
If you mean any one from the film world, I must say no one. There are many people who I admire, as people and their work, but I understand we are very different in many ways.
My role model is my best friend, Anwar Hashimi, who trusted me and opened up his life to me. I am working on a pentalogy, five feature films about his character. WOLF AND SHEEP was the first part. In other parts, you will see Qodrat in different places and times. I was very inspired and impressed after reading Anwar’s unpublished diary of 800 pages. I keep saying to myself, his story needs to be heard and seen by the world. He is Afghanistan. He is the one taking our hand and let us to explore the real Afghanistan. I adore him for being survived after being in different wars and experiencing violence. He is a true inspiration for me.
Do you involve your own family in your work? How does your experience of growing up shape the stories you want to tell?
I involve people around me, my friends, and sometimes family members. I involve all the people that I trust.
I think I have stayed a child in many ways: I don’t count myself as a grown up in my heart. I feel very close to kids’ emotion and behaviors and reactions.
In the UK, Wolf and Sheep will be distributed online via The Tide Experiment from 10 October, straight after it screens at the London Film Festival. What do you think this model of online distribution can offer to first-time filmmakers – and to audiences?
WOLF AND SHEEP producer Katja Adomeit says:
I think this is an amazing distribution model. The Tide Experiment not only allows for non-traditional distribution and tries something new, but also allows to work with the best in marketing, PR and distribution. Together, we can create a buzz about a film at one festival screening, and then anyone can immediately watch the film online at home. For first-time filmmakers, who are not known yet in the world (which I’m sure Shahrbanoo certainly will be), it is just a wonderful opportunity.