Two decades later those reels, which include long-lost movies and documentary images of Afghanistan before it was ravaged by violence, are being made available to watch again through digitization.
The years-long project will bring back to life hugely popular Afghan feature films, centred on love rather than war, and introduce young Afghans to a side of their country they’ve never known — peace.
“We were very scared but by God’s grace we were able to save the movies and now we have this culture alive,” says the 60-year-old Ali, who has worked at Afghan Film for 36 years.
“The reels were hidden in cans marked Indian or Western movies and in barrels buried in the ground,” Arify tells AFP. “Many were stored in rooms blocked by a brick wall and in fake ceilings. They used all sorts of tricks,” he adds, smiling.
Arify says they have 32,000 hours of 16-millimeter film and 8,000 hours of 35-mm film, but cataloging is still ongoing, as members of the public continue to hand in movies that they themselves hid from the Taliban.
“If it’s a feature length movie the whole process can take up to four days. If it’s news images then just one day,” says employee M Fayaz Lutfi.
The project began this year and Arify hopes the entire library can be completed within two years. “We are very proud of what we are doing because we are bringing the dead culture of Afghanistan to life by transferring the visual history of this country to digital,” Lutfi, 27, tells AFP.
“I was emotional watching those images because I only have bad memories of my country. I was not lucky (enough) to live during those times,” 34-year-old Arif Ahmadi told AFP afterwards. “In other countries people are moving forward but if you look at our past we are moving backwards,” he added.
Afghan Film hopes broadcasters will air the old movies and footage, while a private media group has plans to make a web channel. Despite insurgents, including a resurgent Taliban, running or contesting around 40 percent of Afghanistan’s territory the department plans to organise screenings in remote villages without TV or internet.
For older Afghans the films would be a reminder of happier times and for the young generation, a glimpse of Afghanistan’s peaceful past that may help raise hope for its future. Arify says: “We will take the risk to go to every corner of the country. We want our children to learn how Afghans used to live.”