Beauty Academy of Kabul
Photos and Video
Under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were forced to become faceless. Covered by burqas, forbidden to show even a tiny patch of skin, they lived in an almost unbelievably oppressive atmosphere for six long years. This engrossing film documents an unusual and ultimately very moving cultural exchange: a group of volunteer women, comprised of both Americans and Afghan-Americans, recently traveled to that country to teach beauty skills. In Kabul, where such trades had been practiced in secret, so many candidates turned up that a lottery system had to be instituted. Many of them were women who had led desperate lives for years. The film plays witness to their growing self-confidence. Perhaps more surprisingly, it observes how the emotional interactions between Afghan and Western women led to healing and spiritual transformation on both sides, and proves that sisterhood can transcend national boundaries.
Director's Statement Collapse
I knew very little about Afghanistan and even less about beauty school when I came across a story about an American-funded beauty academy in post-Taliban Kabul. The dangers of presuming to represent foreign cultures have been hammered deeply into my brain (I was almost an anthropologist), but I found the story irresistible: it was controversial, inherently aesthetic, and dealt with a part of the world which we need to try to understand. Our standard vision of Afghan women--oppressed, hidden, tormented--isn't entirely wrong, but it's terribly narrow. The seriousness with which the students took hair and makeup amidst such tremendous destruction and poverty seemed, at first, anomalous; but one of the many tragedies of war is the suppression of the ordinary things that make life entertaining. Even in the grimmest circumstances, our humanity is preserved in the mundane. Maybe this is why the women so often, and so disarmingly, followed up their horror stories with laughter. We were in Kabul for almost ten weeks, and the exchanges that took place behind the camera informed my treatment of those we caught on tape. The students seemed as amused and touched by us--four women far from home with a lot of heavy equipment, bizarrely determined to film their every move--as we were by them. They had a lot to say, and back in the edit room the responsibility of conveying their message seemed impossible to meet. What I heard again and again was the fear that Afghanistan might be forgotten by the rest of the world as it has been in the past, used as a pawn in a bigger global game and then left to deal with the consequences on its own. And so I hope in its small way this film will play a part in bringing their reality closer to ours, in reminding us that we're all part of the same fragile world and that only chance has kept some of us safe while others endure incomprehensible violence, and in keeping us thinking--and arguing--about what we need to do to make that world a happier place for everyone. I hope too that it will teach people something about the fine art of cutting hair.
Film Information Collapse
[KABUL] | 2004 | 74 | Documentary Feature
Foreign Title: (The Beauty Academy of Kabul)
Language: Dari, English
About the Director(s)Collapse
Liz Mermin is a New York-based director, producer, and editor. Her first documentary feature, On Hostile Ground (1999), made with Jenny Raskin, chronicles the lives of three U.S. abortion providers, and was released theatrically before airing on the Sundance Channel. Her recent television work includes Report from Ground Zero, ABC's anniversary special about the World Trade Center attacks, for which she was a producer and editor, and Parking Lot, a six-part series about fan culture, which she produced and edited for Trio. She has also made documentaries and PSA's for the Discovery, Court TV, and Oxygen channels, and has written about film for a variety of journals and magazines. She has a B.A. in Literature from Harvard University, a master's degree in Anthropology from NYU, and studied film as a Fulbright scholar in Dakar, Senegal, as well as at the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program in New York.