Orchestra from the Land of Silence

Interview with Lucia Kašová

The Desert Rocker by Lucia Kašová

Orchestra from the Land of Silence tells the story of Marzia, a violinist with the first Afghan all-female orchestra, Zohra. Playing music is still unacceptable in the eyes of many in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to young women. The film portrays the girls' desires, dreams and preparation for performances and follows them on their tour in Central Europe. We talk to Slovak director Lucia Kašová to find out about how this intimate film portrait came about.

Lucia Kašová

Lucia Kašová

The film was produced by the largest music festival in Slovakia called Pohoda. We follow the orchestra's journey to perform there. Can you talk about how this film came about? Was it your or Pohoda's idea to make it?

This decision was very sudden, and happened about two weeks prior to the festival. I had been working with the festival for several years, already making documentaries about each edition of the event. That year they decided to book Zohra for a concert and as they were acquiring visas for the girls and each day they found out more about their situation in Afghanistan, the mission and ideas behind the creation of the all-female orchestra in a country where music was prohibited especially for females was so strong, it perfectly aligned with the ideas of Pohoda that music is freedom. So we decided to abandon the documentary about the festival that year and me and my team were sent to Afghanistan to document the girls' journey. Everything happened so fast.

Why did you choose Marzia as the main protagonist of the film? Was it difficult to get close to her and the orchestra?

I knew I had to have one main protagonist in the film through whom we would tell the story. Marzia caught my eye straight away. She was smart, hard-working with a really interesting face and an amazing story. First, I talked with all the girls after their practice, and then we decided unanimously on Marzia. All of the girls were incredibly friendly from the beginning. They wanted to learn some phrases in Slovak, and were really excited about their journey and amazingly natural in front of the camera. When the first excitement of seeing the microphones and cameras passed, they just didn't mind it at all, acting natural as if we weren't there.


Poster

Orchestra from the Land of Silence by Pohoda Festival

How did you approach filming in Afghanistan versus filming on the road and at the festival? I feel these are two different perspectives that are incorporated in the film.

We only had a few days in Afghanistan, where we wanted to create a sense of home. It was the starting point of the road trip that followed, which was a very hard thing to do in just a few days. I had never visited the country before, but I tried my best to be prepared in theory. That included a lot of reading of facts and fiction about the country, watching the local news and social media groups and talking with Ahmad Sarmast - the head of the orchestra, so we would get a sense of the reality we were entering. The other half of the film was shot on the road so we were exposed to unpredictable events as they came.

During their visit to Slovakia, some of the members of the orchestra disappeared after their concert at Pohoda, which made it to the local news. We don't really find out what happens from the film, but can you perhaps shed a light on it?

The dramaturgist of our film suggested that something like this might have happened, as during communism it was a common practice among Czechoslovakian athletes and artists who travelled to the West. So we had this option in mind beforehand. Four girls decided to run to Germany, because they all were facing forced marriages in Afghanistan and tremendous pressure from their families. I kept in contact with them, but they didn't want to be part of the film and I had to respect that. All I can say is that they are doing well. It was a very hard decision to make especially at that age when you have to leave everything you know behind.


Orchestra from the Land of Silence by Pohoda Festival

The press text mentions: "During the tour in Slovakia when they get to the former borders of the communist bloc, the symbolism of the Iron Curtain moves the Afghan story to a completely different perspective." Can you talk about this different perspective?

Before the fall of the Iron curtain in 1989, it wasn't much different for us in Slovakia, when many people decided to risk their life, flee the country and become refugees in the Western world like Afghans do today. The conditions in the country are unbearable for many, facing prison or even death. I think people tend to look at it through different optics. If there are refugees from the Eastern block it is acceptable, if they are from Afghanistan, it is not. So we wanted to find similarities between people running from tyrant regimes - either communism or Muslim fundamentalists - the reasons are the same. The people can't live without their basic human rights, and if the regime is oppressing them and you can't fight it, you have to flee. It's everybody's personal decision, and none of those two options is an easy one.

The situation in Afghanistan has been changing rapidly, with the Taliban rule, a lot has gotten worse for women. Women are excluded and banned from university and secondary schools, many workplaces, etc. Are you still in touch with the orchestra, and how are they nowadays?

Doctor Ahmad Sarmast - the head of the Music Institute in Afghanistan and the orchestra were able to evacuate the music school to Portugal, where they found refuge. I have no idea how he was able to do this, but he saved 108 of their students, who continue to study music there. I am sure it required an inhumane effort in those turbulent times when America withdrew its forces and people were blocking the airport in Kabul in an attempt to get on the plane and fly to safety. Suddenly everybody working with foreign NGOs was in danger. The Taliban militia raided their school a few days later after they fled and destroyed all the instruments and everything they left behind. In today's Afghanistan, they would be persecuted, without a chance to study. I am hoping our film will draw attention to the atrocities committed by the Taliban and urge international support for people in Afghanistan. Because, as Dr. Sarmast says: It's a small group of heartless people who are holding the majority of the country kidnapped.


Poster

Orchestra from the Land of Silence

You are a filmmaker with a diverse filmography, having made films about politicians, sailors, and musicians. As far as I know, you are based in South Africa. What stories capture your attention now?

I am very sensitive to inequalities and the meaning of freedom. I think despite the diverse topics of my films, this remains the underlying motive in all of them. Currently, I am focused on the near prospects of our earth through the issues of global warming, growing social inequalities and toxic waste management. I am convinced that very soon our civilization will be facing problems that will require world unity, not division, to save the earth and all life on it.