Afghan filmmaker sees Berlin as home — for now

28 Feruary 2016

Berlin - While attending the Berlin International Film Festival, Afghan filmmaker Ghafar Faizyar shared his story about coming to Berlin in 2014 — and not returning to his homeland. This is not his first exile. His family fled the Taliban-rule in the nineties and he grew up in Iran.
While he was in Berlin, his wife told him that some men had come looking for him. On an earlier occasion while still in Kabul, his nose was broken when unknown assailants beat him up. He is a cinematographer on the internationally critically acclaimed documentary “Hip Hop Kabul” that critically challenges the traditional role of Afghan women as well as violence against women because of religious beliefs while introducing Afghan rap to a modern audience.

Faizyar applied for political asylum and, while awaiting the decision, was sent to a small Bavarian village, Bergen, near the Alps, where he spent the next 15 months in a former hotel with Eritrean, Afghan and Syrian refugees. While the Syrians were moved sooner, Faizyar was stuck without any Internet, far from any major city, unable to speak the German language. Language courses, he was told, would start only once his asylum was granted. He was impatient, stressing that he needed to learn German to be able to work. He spent a fortune buying data on his smart phone to communicate with his wife and children, who at that time were still in Afghanistan. He had to make a three-hour return trip to Munich each time to load his data.

While the younger generation in the village shunned the refugees, the older people tried to seek some contact and to teach them simple German words. Otherwise the refugees were left to their own devices, with only the three meals a day breaking the monotony of their existence. As the only English speaker in his group, Faizyar was soon called in as mediator. His counterpart was the only Eritrean English-speaker.
With nothing else to do but wait, tensions arose between the two nationalities over what he calls minor intercultural differences and misunderstandings. For example, he said the Afghans played cards late at night, while the Eritreans liked to listen to their music a few decibels louder than what Afghans could tolerate. Sometimes his diplomatic skills were tested and he admitted it was a bit dangerous when at times he had to stress he was only the interpreter, not the perpetrator.

Once he got asylum and permission for his family to join him in Germany was granted, his battle was still not over. The authorities were not keen to let him leave Bavaria and return to Berlin. He was arguing that he wanted to work as soon as possible and saw more possibilities to integrate and get back to work in a multi-cultural film environment. Eventually, through his own perseverance, he found a flat in Berlin, was reunited with his wife and daughters and is now learning German so he can start working on a feature film project.

For now, he is pragmatic and sees Berlin as his home while embracing whatever opportunities he gets. During the film festival — also called the Berlinale — using his guest festival pass, he was watching 5-6 films a day. Asked where he feels at home he said, “Life is going on and now I’m in Berlin. If you ask me where it is my dream to live, then it is still to go back to my country – but until the extremists are gone from the cities, that is not possible.”

(c) Anli Serfontein 2016