Seats stand empty inside the Ariana Cinema, in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban had ordered cinemas to stop operating nearly three months earlier.
2022 Photo Contest, Asia, Stories

The Cinema of Kabul


Bram Janssen

The Associated Press
04 November, 2021

Seats stand empty inside the Ariana Cinema, in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban had ordered cinemas to stop operating nearly three months earlier.

Culture can also be a casualty of war. Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Ariana Cinema in Kabul remained closed, its staff in limbo, waiting to hear whether the Islamist fundamentalist Taliban would allow films to be screened. The cinema, which had operated since the 1960s, was one of around half a dozen in the Afghan capital and was restored in 2004, after the previous Taliban government was overthrown. The Ariana is government-owned, and the Taliban allowed male employees to come in for work, but Asita Ferdous – the cinema’s first female director – was not allowed to enter the building. She has since moved to Pakistan, and is seeking asylum elsewhere. In early 2022, the cinema remained closed, and women were no longer allowed to be employed there.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, just weeks after the majority of US and NATO troops had withdrawn from  their bases. During their first period in power, from 1996–2001, the Taliban had imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law, including compulsory attendance at mosques, a ban on women from working or going to school, and forbidding music and cinema. Immediately after the 2021 takeover, secondary schools for girls were closed, many women were instructed not to return to their jobs, and in some places Taliban fighters stopped live music performances and prohibited people from watching television.

The photographer went to  Afghanistan on assignment, and has a personal passion for cinema. He found this situation to be symbolic of the standstill the nation finds itself in since the Taliban occupation.

Bram Janssen
About the photographer

Bram Janssen is a visual journalist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His work has a strong focus on humanitarian issues, documenting the impact of conflict, corruption, and international politics on everyday life. After freelancing for many years, Janssen joined The Associated Press full time in 2014, after whic...

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Technical information
Shutter Speed





Sony ILCE-7M3

Jury comment

The jury felt that this project offers a quiet approach to one of the biggest news events of 2021. The cinematic story is a perspective of the Taliban takeover that we don’t usually see, particularly, it sends a message about how arts, society and culture are all casualties of war, in a way that is universal and can be understood around the world. The project contributes to an ongoing and important conversation about what will happen to Afghan filmmakers and their craft under Taliban control. Juxtaposed against the intensity of war, this muted and suspended story – that is beautiful and well edited – portrays the current limbo of arts and cultural facilitators in a very personal way.