Salim Shaheen has been described as the Ed Wood of Afghan cinema. While there are comparisons with the American legend responsible for Plan 9 From Outer Space, the prolific Afghan actor-director-producer of over 100 films is more akin to Hong Kong's Godfrey Ho who, like Shaheen, has a bulky filmography (most boasting Ninja in the title), shoots his low-budget actioners on the fly, reuses actors, and has a talent for recycling scenes for his other movies. Director Sonia Kronlund makes it to Afghanistan to learn more about the man and his passion for film…
"I risk my life for cinema," claims Shaheen in one of the many scenes that find him pontificating on his own self-importance (after helping a driver of a broken down car he says, "A director must help the weak!"). But he's not wrong here: while shooting one scene during the civil war, a rocket landed on set, killing ten. Shaheen, along with some crew, were injured. A cautious Kronlund finds him on location in some of Afghanistan's more hostile areas, currently shooting four films simultaneously – two of which are semi-autobiographical.
Documenting his early years (his love for film bringing shame on his family as the young Shaheen would regularly sneak into the local cinema, an act that would garner regular beatings from his elder brothers), moving onto his adult life (he was a general in a local militia whose only concern was to defend his neighbourhood) and onto his first forays into film, Shaheen keeps his cards close to his chest as to his personal life. Kronlund tries to probe him on his relationship with his first wife, an older woman who bore him six boys and who lives with his second wife, but Shaheen proves to be difficult to nail down. An energetic and boisterous fellow, the semi-literate Shaheen (his PA writes his dialogue) bounces around and is more at home when he's in front of the camera.
But while his larger-than-life personality dominates, Kronlund is able to cleverly and subtly slip in an exploration of Afghanistan after the Taliban. While she finds warm humour and joy in the people the subjugation of women persists. They are not allowed to watch Shaheen shoot and his actress is bullied by her 'strict' father, demanding that she doesn't dance when Shaheen needs her to. Kronlund herself is wary that she is a foreign woman.
What would have been nice to see more of is Shaheen's regular contributor, actor Qurban Ali, who has made a career of playing women in Shaheen's films; what he must have put up with in following his dream would make for an excellent documentary on its own.