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In December 2001 hundreds of children fled the war in Afghanistan and managed to reach a school run by UNICEF, in Iran. They began a new education after years of indoctrination by the Taliban. One of the girls is not willing to remove her burqa even though she is free to do so, in fear of the vengeful god instilled in her by the Taliban.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This short documentary begins with shots of a crippled young boy on his pathetic crutches, making his way towards a classroom in the dusty village, where girls are being taught to brush their teeth. We follow him again as he makes his way to a water hose. 

Whether the symbolism is intentional I don’t know, but he seems to me the symbol of the cultural and educational crippling of the children of Afghanistan. He hobbles to water and drinks, like he and his fellow children learn the alphabet, drinking the basic educational tools for a better, more informed life. One young girl, invisible inside a black burqa is so indoctrinated she barely dares speak her name. It’s a sin to be seen by men…telling her name on TV is too close to being seen. “God will torture us in the next life if our faces are seen by men.” Although she confesses that what she wants to do is learn to read and write, she still won’t uncover her eyes. She’s sent out of the class. A staggering 80% of men and 95% of women in Afghanistan did not have a chance to attend school even before the Taliban. 

Afghan Alphabet is a snapshot of a nation’s children standing on the brink of a new world order with just a glimmer of hope – spread by the alphabet that may free them… just a little….maybe. A dozen at a time. This is a short yet devastating insight into a crippled culture which suppresses women by denying them the power of education.

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AFGHAN ALPHABET (Exempt from Classification)

Alefbay-e afghan

PRODUCER: Makhmalbaf Film House

DIRECTOR: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

SCRIPT: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

EDITOR: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

MUSIC: (selection) Mohammad Reza Darvishi


RUNNING TIME: 45 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 7, 2003 (in double bill with Black Chicks Talking)

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