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Mon 12 Dec 2011 03:07 PM

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UK’s ‘Secret Cinema’ group screens movies in Afghanistan

Screenings aim to bring culture to city more known for military campaigns than movies

UK’s ‘Secret Cinema’ group screens movies in Afghanistan
(Picture for illustrative purposes only)

In a dusty, dimly lit Kabul basement, British cinema fan
club 'Secret Cinema' launched their first movie event outside Britain on
Thursday evening, bringing costume, audience participation and light-hearted
mystery to the high-security Afghan capital.

The group has built up a following in Britain by showing
critically acclaimed films in unusual locations, creating a fun atmosphere for
film buffs and, crucially, keeping the name of the movie under wraps until the
lights go down.

The key to choosing Kabul, whose potholed roads, sketchy
communications and ubiquitous security emplacements do not easily lend
themselves to meticulously planned art events, was the desire to show a
dimension of the city beyond violence, fear, and the ongoing military campaign.

"People say 'the Taliban will come' ... but there's
also lots of other life going on, not just the terror," said Fabien
Riggall, creative director and founder of Secret Cinema, speaking from London.

"The idea is that anyone, anywhere should have access
to film ... I'm very passionate about the idea that culture should be made available
to people."

Riggall was inspired by Afghanistan-based artist Travis
Beard, who earlier this year organised a music festival in Kabul - a rare event
in a city better known worldwide for suicide attacks like Tuesday's huge blast
at a Shi'ite Muslim festival which killed more than 50 people.

"Kabul is starving, it's thirsty for more cultural
activities," said Beard, who organised Thursday's screening.

The select group of Western and Afghan film fans who
gathered after sundown had been given clues about the film via Facebook, but
the exact location of the screening was only revealed shortly before the
screening began.

"In the West, a lot of time you'd advertise an event
and promote it a lot, but you can't do that here, so we do 'stealth promotion'
... everyone know's it's on at six o'clock on Thursday, but no-one knows the
location until they SMS us," Beard said.

As with most activities in Kabul, security is a factor.

"We're not trying to exclude people, but because of the
security situation we need to be careful about who's invited to the
event," Beard, dressed in costume matching the film, the identity of which
organisers want to keep secret during a run of similar events in London.

Organisers want to extend the appeal of showing classic
films in unusual environments beyond the foreign professionals who live in

"We can get an audience that's interested in something
besides going to the cinema and seeing Bollywood - we're trying to give them
something else," Beard said.

"We're really trying to broaden the invitation list, we
don't just want expats hanging out with expats. There's quite a strong
community of Afghans here who are artistically minded."

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