The Prince of Nothingwood
In a country where war is the never-ending state, Salim Shaheen conducts and films a life with blurred borders between fiction and reality, movie star and man of strong Islamic belief.
After years documenting the horrific events in Afghanistan, Sonia Kronlund embarks on a project to show the unseen artistic side of the nation in the form of its most famous director. Actor, singer, producer, Shaheen is quite a character, and not only in his films – of which he holds a record of 110 and counting. The pride and moral support for the people who initially could watch TV only illegally, Shaheen has an expanded ego and is quite a legend.
Often crouched on the theatre seats of Kabul, as a child he fed his mind with lots of Bollywood movies. Pictures were his only education, self-taught art he started to practise with friends. Through the Soviet occupation, the Taliban regime, and today’s attacks, Shaheen’s projects continue to be a spark of colour and fun for many.
Kitsch, Z movies with vague plots, the films produced by the little crew would make the high tech and special effects-saturated West’s industry laugh. But considered in their war-torn place of birth, they look more like little miracles – and this justifies the title Nothingwood: no equipment, no budget, no security, though these movies continue to inspire and give voice to people.
Except for two brief appearances, and Sonia Kronlund – who belongs to an absolutely different planet, being a director herself and a foreigner – the complete absence of women from the frame is unbelievably authentic. The brilliant Qurban Ali, an actor who plays the feminine roles, is the proof of one of the contradictions the regime – like all the authoritarian systems – suffers.
The telling of the subjects’ traumatic stories to camera feels unforced; drifting from an expected sad tone, the laughs and cheerful air around them instead emerge naturally. The visuals alternate between clips of Shaheen’s grainy movies, old historical footage and modern images. Like many of the dialogues, they reinforce how much cinema is the only reason for living for this man.
Aiming to present the bright side of Afghanistan, The Prince of Nothingwood loses part of its effect in its slow pace, considering also the added difficulty of the subtitles for the translation. Punchier sequences and a less fragmented storyline would have let the visuals resonate much more.
The Prince of Nothingwood is released nationwide on 15th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Prince of Nothingwood here: