The World's First Global Film Festival

Bad Omen

Directed by: Salar Pashtoonyar

Cast: Fereshta Afshar, Marwa Amini, Irfan Amini

Country: Afghanistan

Time: 16:10

Synopsis: Kabul, Afghanistan. Pari, a widow and mother, struggles to purchase her prescription glasses in order to continue working as a tailor.

How did the idea for Bad Omen come about?

I base my work on personal experiences or stories of other people that inspire me. Growing up as a paternal orphan in Afghanistan, I witnessed firsthand the harsh reality of surviving and providing as a widow. Too often, when a man dies, many of his wife’s rights die as well. In addition to the legal barriers and lack of economic opportunity, widowed women are often stigmatized and considered bad luck or burdens on the deceased’s family. Due to the never-ending wars, Afghanistan has over two million widows who struggle to survive without social assistance, without civic rights, or much access to the labor market. Unfortunately, little is known around the world about this current state of affairs and it’s even less represented in cinema. The fact that there are absolutely no conversations about these widows was the driving force to make Bad Omen.

Fereshta Afshar who plays Pari gives an excellent performance. How did you come across her?

I saw glimpses of Fereshta's talent in a trailer for another film in which she plays a supporting role. I knew right then she would be perfect for the part. Afghan cinema is young and it lacks trained actors, especially female talent. There is no proper industry, no agents or managers. Also, Fereshta is a very reserved person who avoids social media. All this made locating her very complicated. It took us a month to set up a meeting. With the recent events in Afghanistan, this might be her last film for the foreseeable future which is a significant loss.

How did you choose the film locations?

We were rolling with the punches and creating opportunities for the production. For example, for the glasses shop location, I went with the production manager "Parvaiz Arify" and cinematographer "Nikolay Michaylov" to location scout these shops while pretending to buy sunglasses. Once we found the perfect location, I did buy sunglasses which then lead to a conversation. We convinced the shop owner to let us shoot. He was kind enough to help us, but he assumed that filming would take an hour at most. After the shoot, which took probably three hours, he told us never to return. Some sites, such as the market, are impossible to shoot in because the camera attracts a lot of attention. We hid the camera and started rolling. Luckily, we got the shot on the first take but we ended up losing Fereshta for a while in the crowd because she didn't know where the camera was so she just kept walking. She didn't have a phone on her. Pretty much each location has a story of its own. Some funny, others not so much.

What challenges did you face filming in Afghanistan?

Everything was a challenge and an obstacle to overcome. First, we didn't have lighting gear. We were shooting during winter so our days were short and limited. In-door scenes were always dependent on the sunlight. Filming outdoors would always lead to tons of attention. We would be in the middle of a take and someone would walk up to us to asks what we are shooting or which channel can they watch it on, etc. There was also mental stress shooting outdoor locations. Kabul was very populated with foreign diplomats and soldiers so there was always the worry of an insurgent attack of some sort in the back of my head.

Many people that will attend this festival may have preconceptions about Afghanistan. What do you hope people take away after seeing this film?

To give a glimpse into the lives of Kabul residents, we captured the film in a way that makes the landscape and its population an integral part of the film. Due to the never-ending wars, people must think Afghans are violent but the facts are these wars are imposed on Afghanistan. Outside forces have been using Afghanistan as the battleground for decades. I hope people realize that Afghans are a loving and resilient people stuck in an unfortunate cycle of wars. Just like Fereshta, all the citizens and the country are stuck in these unwanted conflicts.