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Kabul Transit

A street-level documentary that explores the soul of a city devastated by nearly three decades of war.

A printer-friendly version of this page 84 minutes
Closed Captioned

Directed by David Edwards, Maliha Zulfacar, Gregory Whitmore
Produced by David Edwards, Maliha Zulfacar, Gregory Whitmore
Associate Producers - Judith Helfand, Eliza Segell
Director of Photography - Gregory Whitmore
Editor - Gregory Whitmore

"One of the most important films on the Middle East in recent years." Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies
In the broken cityscape of Kabul, Afghanistan, amid the dust and rubble of war, Westerners and Afghans adjust to the uncertain possibilities of peace. Kabul Transit shuttles through the broken streets of the city, moving between public space and private, listening in on conversations, posing questions, probing the darker alleys mainstream media avoids. The result is a unique cinematic experience - a shifting mosaic of encounters and raconteurs, captured glances and telling gestures, all beautifully shot and woven together by the music and the found sounds of a city sluggishly coming to life. Rejecting the usual device of narration and portraiture, the film asks the viewer to experience Kabul as a newly arrived visitor would - with a freshness born of apprehension on finding oneself in a place that is at once hauntingly strange and altogether familiar.

Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2007     Copyright Date: 2006
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-665-9     VHS ISBN: 1-59458-664-0

"Returning to Afghanistan after the war, anthropologist David Edwards (Heroes of the Age, 1996; Before the Taliban, 2002), with the help of his cameraman [Gregory Whitmore] and co-filmmaker Maliha Zulfacar, created a rare glimpse of what he found in a ravaged city and the complex ways in which Afghans are trying to survive. Finalist in a number of international documentary film festivals and recently shown at the Walter Reed Theatre in New York, Kabul Transit is one of the most important films on the Middle East in recent years."
Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies

"The documentary accurately reveals the end result of a 30-year war devastation of the ancient city of Kabul and its inhabitants. It draws many contrasts - the abundance of supply for foreign troops and the scarcity faced by Afghan security forces, the new buildings and the devastation of the city, and the views of university students on what should be done and what is being done by donors. The quality of photography is superb and the coverage is comprehensive with high educational value to viewing students and the public at large. Kabul has been destroyed many times in history and Kabul Transit clearly demonstrates that history repeats itself. The most astonishing aspect came through the positive psychology of the people showing strive and hope rather than despair at terrible odds. The directors of Kabul Transit have rendered a major service to the public and deserve our [gratitude]."
Nake Kamrany, Professor of Economics, University of Southern California

"Afghanis caught in the lower hell of globalization, surviving with the kind of disarming courage that only a fellow human can muster. Subtle, devastating, and poetic, Kabul Transit will be of great use to educators who seek an honest portrait of Afghanistan today."
Flagg Miller, Religious Studies, The University of California-Davis

"As someone who has spent time on the ground in Afghanistan I have long wanted to share this land with those who see it only through the lenses of the war on terror. In particular, as an educator I have wanted to bring this vibrant land of snow-covered mountains, ancient mosques, caravans, nomads, and colorful peoples to life for my students. In Kabul Transit I have found the means to do so. This revealing documentary brings to life average Afghans, from police officials to women who are probing the limits of personal freedom in a new, post-Taliban setting. The result is dozens of vignettes into the lives of ordinary Afghans who hardly resemble the threatening images most outsiders have of the Taliban, warlords, opium barons, or mujahideen. It is the story of real Afghans."
Brian Glyn Williams, Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

"Well conceived and tastefully edited...Captures many heart wrenching moments of suffering, joy and palpable hope mixed with uncertainty and fear about the outcome of the ongoing military and humanitarian intervention by the US led coalition...This film is a remarkable testament of the warning signs which remained and continues to remain unnoticed to this day, at a huge loss both to the peoples of Afghanistan and the international community. The producers of Kabul Transit should be proud of this memorable and invaluable videographic time capsule of Afghanistan's social history at the dawn of the twenty-first century."
Nazif M. Shahrani, Chairman, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Professor of Anthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Indiana University

"Spare, unsentimental and uncompromising...Most comparable to the recent doc 'Iraq in Fragments,' and infinitely more successful, this is a picture of a city in fragments, without intro, commentary or visual aid....Edwards, a tyro filmmaker, anthropologist and expert on Afghanistan at Williams College, and vet filmmaker/editor Whitmore, with Afghan-born producer Maliha Zulfacar, ventured to Kabul in 2003 with the idea of taking in various aspects of Kabul sans pre-set agenda. With Edwards' somewhat distanced, anthropological manner of filming akin to French doc pioneer Jean Rouch, Whitmore as editor opts to build the film by showing each part of the city, and seldom revisiting it, creating a sort of Cubist effect for the viewer....Such an approach may seem downright revolutionary to some doc fans, but the pic's style is much in accord with the norm for current Euro and Asian documaking, where polemics takes a back seat if it has a place at all. Lensing under arduous conditions is superb, lending the pic a bigscreen presence."
Robert Koehler, Variety

"Offers an invaluable record of the problems plaguing the first outpost in the War on Terror. Recommended."
Video Librarian

"Kabul Transit captures intimate scenes of Afgan realities...It invites the viewer to listen to and experience the life and concerns of a society victimized by three decades of proxy wars, and the activities of their presumed international saviors...Serves as a powerful critique of the West's post-9/11 approaches to security and reconstruction."
Asian Educational Media Service

"Forgoing devices of narration and intertitles, filmmakers David Edwards, Gregory Whitmore, and Maliha Zulfacar sculpt an engrossing, wry and ultimately haunting vision of war-torn Kabul and its diverse residents. Meandering through the neighborhoods, we encounter a mystic herbal doctor, an earnest Canadian soldier, the city's fledgling police force, a childless French schoolteacher and even a band of kite enthusiasts. With each encounter, human behavior is captured in its most fragile, humble form, thereby reminding us of mankind's ability to persevere no matter what the circumstances."
Los Angeles Film Festival

"With its title suggesting both its subject and its style, Kabul Transit presents a portrait of a fragmented country in transition via a glancing, observational look at its capital city and environs at a very particular moment in its history...A mosaic of images and experiences that convey the sorrow, black humor, irony, and surprising hope that can exist in the most untenable of situations."
Film Society of Lincoln Center

"Rather than taking a sensationalist outsider's perspective, this masterful documentary by first-time filmmakers David Edwards, Dr. Maliha Zulfacar, and Gregory Whitmore offers panoramic views of the city, as if filmed by an everyman on the streets of Kabul. The camera is in a constant state of quiet motion, swooping past money exchangers, government officials, U.N. Peace Keepers, and kite runners. There are no inserted queries on terrorism, diatribes about the burqa, or elongated shots of starving children within such organic motion; rather, the seemingly invisible filmmakers allow the residents, landscape and traditions of Kabul to illustrate the current state of the city and its people. Throughout the film, the camera serves less as a microscope and more as an eye, mimicking the sight of anyone and everyone on the streets of this legendary capitol city."
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

"Rather than shoot a travelogue or a polemic about how military violence has damaged the city and its people, they opted to shoot a fly-on-the-wall documentary in which they portrayed all sides of life in Kabul and allowed its citizens to speak for themselves."
Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

"Kabul Transit explores the soul of a city devastated by nearly three decades of war. The film follows city residents in the course of their daily lives and listens to their stories of the past and their hopes for the future. From neighborhoods leveled by rockets, traditional mud brick homes next to modern glass towers, gleaming SUVs caught in traffic jams with rebuilt taxis, Kabul Transit is about the spirit, as much as it is about the problems of the city. It is about the black humor and sardonic good sense that keep people attuned to the realities of their lives, even as politicians lay the groundwork for battles yet to come."
New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival

"A meditative but uncompromising document of the diverse residents of the war-torn Afghan capital, Kabul Transit forgoes didactive narration in favour of patient exposé of a range of everyday lives. A group of female university students discuss resistance and Western influence, a fledgling police force struggle with insufficient resources, a herbal doctor consults with his patients and a French schoolteacher forges close relations with her pupils in her adopted home. All are a testament to perseverance and spirit in the face of regression and destruction."
Leeds International Film Festival

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
includes 17 additional scenes, scene selection, and English, Spanish or Dari/Persian subtitles, or closed captions in English.

Kabul Transit web site
Trailer (QuickTime)

Awards and Festivals
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam
Award of Commendation, Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Video Festival, American Anthropological Association
Los Angeles Film Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
Film Society of Lincoln Center Independents' Night
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
Leeds International Film Festival
Galway Film Fleadh
New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival
Barcelona Asian Film Festival
Bodrum FilmFest, Turkey
Black Nights Film Festival, Estonia
Tiburon International Film Festival
Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting

Asian Studies
Conflict Resolution
Developing World
Film Studies
Human Rights
International Studies
Islamic Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Political Science
Social Justice
Social Psychology
Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning
War and Peace

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... more Reviews

"Kabul Transit is a sensual meditation on the meaning of security in a city pummeled by decades of war. An earnest Canadian peacekeeper reflects on the daunting task of rebuilding a country in the absence of a clear sense of direction. Female university students provide a sardonic perspective on Western efforts to save Afghanistan from Afghans. A salesman tries to sell multi-million dollar fire equipment to a government that cannot afford uniforms for its policemen. At the same time, kite runners, amulet makers and herbal doctors transmit an unlikely sense of hope and humor, insisting that though buildings, roads and bodies have been broken by war, the spirit of Kabul survives. "
International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam

"After the fall of the Taliban the world pledged an unprecedented sum of money and committed vast military resources to Afghanistan. In the capital city of Kabul, among broken bricks, dust and craters, the watchwords of the reconstruction efforts were `budgets' and `progress'. Notions of patience, consideration, cooperation and history sounded tinny and weak.Kabul Transit attempts a slower and gentler inquiry into the meaning of the country's security and reconstruction....Kabul Transit sets out to give voice to those whose stories would otherwise never be told."
Galway Film Fleadh

"Kabul Transit is beautifully photographed, matter-of-fact, bleak yet oddly hopeful and 'infinitely more successful,' according to Variety's Robert Koehler, than the comparable Iraq in Fragments. I heartily concur."
Michael Hawley,

"The film was beautifully shot, making sure there is not a moment where you are not captivated by something on the screen."

"After the fall of the Taliban - but also after centuries of colonialism and decades of proxy war and chaos - the world pledged an unprecedented sum of money and committed vast military resources to Afghanistan. Amidst this largess voices of optimism, hope and progress began to drone out the once familiar stories of despair, perseverance and exhaustion.In the capital city of Kabul, among broken bricks, dust and craters, Westerners and Afghans alike moved quickly to forge new circuits and in some cases graft entirely new systems - of law, economics, architecture and defense strategy - onto the shell of what remained. Perhaps too quickly. `Budget' and `Progress' became the sole watchwords of the reconstruction and security efforts. Notions of patience, consideration, cooperation and history sounded tinny and weak. Speed itself had become a goal."
Bodrum Film Festival

"This film, which shows the problems as well as the spirit of the city, is certain to be a popular addition to collections."
School Library Journal

"Recommended for public and academic libraries supporting studies in current events and Afghan culture."
Library Journal

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