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Hollywoodgate: Venice Film Review

Ibrahim Nash’at’s Hollywoodgate pointedly shows the power of the Taliban, with a quietly menacing focus on the role the US and NATO played in encouraging it.

Almost immediately, Hollywoodgate’s writer, director and cinematographer Ibrahim Nash’at lets you know the seriousness of his endeavour with this documentary. One of his subjects, Air Force Commander Malawi Mansour, proclaims that ‘if his intentions are bad, then he will die soon’. Having been given extraordinary access to the Taliban in the year immediately following US and NATO troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, Nash’at’s film is bold in its quest to give a glimpse behind the corrugated steel perimeter.

Hollywoodgate isn’t a puppet for propaganda, nor is it an extortion of the daily suffering the people of Afghanistan face. Instead, it is a subtle but affective admonishment of the West and its role in outfitting this modern iteration of the Taliban. Utilising the tools at his disposal, namely his camera and soft voiceover, Nash’at delivers a quietly menacing look at the ‘obscene power of those who worship war’.

When told not to film a collection of abandoned military aircraft idling on the tarmac, Nash’at lets the camera linger on them for several seconds. He opens the film with the jarring image of Taliban fighters combing through an abandoned CIA base, stepping through smashed computers and picking up a bottle of Budwiser, before testing the fully equipped gym and proudly extoling how it will now train their soldiers. The remnants of a liberating force are now fuelling those that terrorise the people they claim to have liberated, and they don’t seem to care.

Nash’at includes the terrifying revelation that over $7 billion worth of equipment was left behind by US and NATO forces. That includes training facilities, weapons and aircraft, all restored to something of their former glory by a man who believes that conquering is his destiny and desires to be a martyr. Mansour doesn’t particularly talk to Nash’at, with little acknowledgement of the camera aside from allowing its presence, but Nash’at crafts a pretty well-formed picture of the man regardless.

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Hollywoodgate (2023 Venice Film Festival)

He married a doctor, but is most proud of the fact that she gave up practising medicine to marry him. He gleefully films the parade of military might staged for visiting Russian and Iranian Ambassadors, before spraining his hand doling out punishments. It seems he is revered and reviled in equal measure, and thanks to the playground of expensive rubbish he inherited, his belief and quest for power only seems to be growing.

With a really effective score from Volker Bertelmann, Hollywoodgate is a documentary that both poignantly and pointedly showcases the reality of Taliban rule. It doesn’t rely on showing its audience the atrocities undoubtedly being committed, instead it trusts them to understand that the expansion and militarisation of this group inherently leads to them. It is quiet but not unassuming, pointing its finger at the US and NATO and giving it a shake, telling them in no uncertain terms to not be surprised things have gone badly.

Hollywoodgate premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2023.

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