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Anonymous on the Streets of Kabul
With such highly recognizable and controversial figures leading the cast and crew, shooting the entire film in Kabul would have been fraught with notoriety if not danger. Most of the filming was carried out in Morocco with a full crew, including director of photography Thierry Arbogast (known for his stylish and arresting visuals in films such as La Femme Nikita and Kiss of the Dragon). "We found apartment blocks in Morocco that looked exactly like Soviet-era housing in Kabul," laughs Gentile. The film is shot in Scope with a full-sized digital camera.

Exteriors, however, were shot in Kabul with stripped-down, run-and-gun anonymity. "We had a skeleton crew, Afghan line producers, and young assistants from both France and Kabul," says Rahimi. The crew stayed in private homes among friends, and never shot in the same place for more than two or three days. "Atiq's face is well known," says Gentile, "And we needed to stay under the radar to get the work done quickly and cheaply. There are so many journalists and documentary productions around Kabul, we could pass unnoticed." The filmmakers had procured permission to enter the country with a foreign crew and a small portable digital camera by claiming that they were making a documentary about "combat quail," the racing birds who are featured in a subplot (their "combat" is a race, not a cockfight). "Afghanis love birds," says Rahimi. "Every home has pet birds, in a beautiful garden or a poor hut."

The need for anonymity was not so much about personal safety as about avoiding too many onlookers and official harassment. "At one location, we were scheduled to shoot three days," recalls Rahimi, "But some soldiers came after the first day and demanded to see our permits. We showed them, but they said that wasn't enough -- we needed permission from the local mullah. I wasn't about to go before some mullah to beg permission or give him a payoff, so we crammed the shoot into two days and got out of there. But you have to understand, the war is not in Kabul. Kabul is so busy that half the time we couldn't get the crew across the city through traffic. Of course, some imbecile could come and blow himself up next to you -- so it was better to stay low."

Against her fervent wishes, Golshifteh Farahani was not able to come to Kabul for the shoot. "She wanted to hide in our suitcases!" says Gentile, "But she is so recognizable that she would have brought crowds down around us, and her safety could not be assured. She was disappointed because she felt so strongly about this character, it killed her to have another woman in a burkah playing her role."

Rahimi coached his leading lady in the accents, movements and mannerisms of an Afghan woman of her character's background. "She had hoped to spend a month or more living in an Afghan household, learning the part," says Rahimi, "And we could have kept her out of sight with friends, but we couldn't work it out in time. So we rehearsed intensively and she watched Afghan films and videos to achieve the performance."

"We absolutely had to shoot the film in Farsi, not French or English" says producer Gentile. The film was produced on a modest -- but not penurious -- two million dollar budget.

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