The ages-old decorative art of Afghani rug weaving suddenly changed in the 1970’s to include images of violent conflict—tanks, guns, helicopters and bloody death—all depicted in wool with the artistry of the world’s finest weavers. Collectors and connoisseurs around the world call them “war rugs.”
Iranian-born documentary filmmaker Ashkan Soltani makes it his mission to uncover the true story behind Afghan war rugs: Who are the artists who design these rugs? Why such disturbing scenes? What messages are they attempting to send? In the tale the rugs are telling, what is the latest chapter?
Afghani rug merchant Khalid Yagobbi guides Soltani on a journey to Afghanistan, where Weaving Havoc unrolls the war rug story from border refugee camps to dusty mountain villages, to the bazaars of Kabul and Peshawar, to the sleek walls of collectors and museums. Soltani also seeks out expert testimony from leading scholars and curators—as well as the artists themselves—who place the subject matter in historic, social and aesthetic context.
In the course of journey to the heart of the war-torn region neighboring his homeland, Soltani discovers a link to his own cultural traditions—the storytelling art of Pardeh-Khaani. Also known as Tea House Paintings, the Pardeh-Khaani consisted of legendary stories, such as Shahnameh (Book of Kings), told in Persian tea houses by storytellers in front of huge painted curtains illustrating the tale. The custom lost its audience to the coming of cinema in the early 20th Century.
Not just another Afghan war movie, Weaving Havoc transmits a positive message from Islamic culture, delivering a rare, insider’s view of Afghanistan’s creative community, including musicians, poets, and their historic legacy. It is also a story of a filmmaker finding his own cultural roots in an ancient storytelling form.