Salim Shaheen is known as ‘the Ed Wood of Afghanistan’, so this documentary is as eccentric as you might expect. A prolific actor, producer and director, he’s shot 110 gleefully low-budget action movies that have made him a celebrated character in a country better known for war than entertainment. In this film, he’s followed while making his 111th feature in a breezy one-week shoot. This is smash-and-grab cinema, with dancing girls, melodramatic dialogue and quick takes – but there’s still time for Shaheen to have the odd tantrum.
The doc is directed by Sonia Kronlund, a French broadcaster. Word of Shaheen’s legend reached her while covering political stories in Afghanistan. This is lighter fare, but there’s no escaping the rocket attacks. The plight of women is subtly touched upon: one would-be actress must cover her face during filming and is followed everywhere by her concerned father.
Stealer of the show is Qurban Ali, an actor who portrays female characters in Shaheen’s films with Shakespearean gusto. As well as cultural revelations, there are insights into the way ambitious creative types react to rules and denial. Shaheen isn’t the first movie mogul to have been banned from watching films as a child. However, the fact that he was beaten by his father every time he snuck out to the cinema? That gives this a sobering edge.