Following worldwide critical acclaim for his 2001 drama Kandahar, Mohsen Makhmalbaf returns to the subject of Afghanistan for a documentary, Afghan Alphabet. The film explores the lot of Afghan children who live as refugees just inside the Iranian border. While children are shown playing or studying on camera, a narrator explains their situation. War, famine, and drought have left many of these children with no education. Even before the Taliban regime, a large majority of Afghans, boys and girls, did not have access to education. But an effort is being made in the refugee camps to provide schooling. As we see the boys engaged in religious study, the filmmaker questions them about the nature of God. They answer, nervously, as they think they are supposed to. Children who do not have proper identification are not allowed to attend classes, so they sit outside the tiny schoolhouse and listen. In the last part of the film, a girls' class is shown. The teacher, a woman, tries to get one girl, Samira, to remove her burqa and wash her face as part of a classroom demonstration. When the girl refuses, citing religious reasons, the teacher tells her that its pointless for her to be in the class, because she cannot participate with the burqa covering her entire face, including her eyes. Samira tearfully leaves the classroom. A classmate follows her out and tries to persuade her to return and participate, but Samira explains that her late father was a mullah, and it would desecrate his memory to show her face to the class. A song plays on the film's soundtrack with the lyrics "If only Afghan girls were born somewhere else." The film was made to benefit the Afgan Children Education Movement. It was shown as part of the 2002 Tribeca Film Festival.
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