Hazara filmmaker Burhan Qurbani directed a prize-winning film

Filed under: Art |

Hazara People: We do respect all ethnic groups in Afghanistan but Hazaras are not Afghan.

With Film, Afghan-German Is a Foreigner at Home

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: October 17, 2010

Burhan Qurbani directed a prize-winning film exploring universal themes involving three young Muslims living in Berlin. / Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Burhan Qurbani directed a prize-winning film exploring universal themes involving three young Muslims living in Berlin. / Sean Gallup/Getty Images

BERLIN — It has been many years since a German film student had a feature-length movie shown in the competition at the prestigious Berlinale International Film Festival, a distinction that can launch a career. That is what Burhan Qurbani is enjoying at the moment, with his film “Shahada.”

But rising fame can be double-edged, as Mr. Qurbani, 29, now understands, as his native country casts a critical eye on his work, and his life. He suddenly realizes that he is a foreigner at home, and that his audience sees him as an Afghan immigrant who made a movie about Islam, not as a talented German filmmaker who chose to explore issues common to all mankind.

“I’m seen as the Afghani who made the film about integration, and that hurts a little,” he said the other day, sitting at an outdoor cafe and smoking one hand-rolled cigarette after another.

The film’s characters, three young Muslims living in Berlin, confront issues like forbidden love and guilt. They seek refuge, and redemption, in religion. But context is what ultimately defines, and that is largely true with this film, which was produced in 2009 but released this year amid a heated public debate over integration and rising anti-Islamic sentiment in Germany and around the region.

“Of course, I am German,” Mr. Qurbani said. “I have Afghani roots, I can’t deny that, but mostly, I am German.”

Mr. Qurbani’s personal narrative should be a tale of immigrant success. His parents fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and settled in Germany. His father was an electrician, but his parents divorced, so his mother raised two boys with the help of public assistance. He received a first-rate education and had the chance to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

“Shahada,” his student thesis and debut feature-length film, was screened at the Berlinale festival in February, and was shown in theaters in Berlin in the past two weeks. On Saturday night, the Chicago International Film Festival awarded Mr. Qurbani the gold medal for best new director for “Shahada.”

“In a world packed with narratives that overlap, ‘Shahada’ pinpoints in precise moments the forces in its characters’ complicated lives — work and love, immigration and Islam,” said a statement announcing the awards. “The story is specific to Germany and Europe today, but universal in its implications.”

Read full story on Nytimes.com

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