Faiz Mohammad Khairzada, a trailblazing Afghan filmmaker and former head of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Culture, has died at his home in New Jersey from complications caused by pneumonia. He was 85 years old.
As head of Afghanistan's Ministry of Culture in the late sixties and seventies, Khairzada promoted Afghan artists and brought world-renowned figures like Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, and Robert Joffrey to Afghanistan. Profiles of Khairzada by CNN and other news agencies depict him as a man who helped create an exciting, cosmopolitan cultural scene in Afghanistan that benefitted both the country and the many international artists who came to visit.
He directed over 20 films, including the first feature-length Afghan film "Like An Eagle," a copy of which was hidden in a wall during the reign of the Taliban, and has recently been screened again in film festivals around the world.
Khairzada’s son and daughter, Waleed and Neel Khairzada, said in a statement:
“Our father worked tirelessly in the promotion of arts and culture as inherent universal rights that should be made available to all people regardless of their status or wealth … He leaves behind a great story guided by curiosity and respect for equality and diversity - a legacy that will endure, and continue to inspire generations of young Afghans.”
Khairzada founded the Institute of Fine and Performing Arts to help new generations of artists and performers. As founder of the Afghan National Theater, he directed plays (which he translated) by Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and Chekov. He formed 16 regional theater companies, and organized national tours to make theater more accessible to more Afghans.
Under his leadership, the national museum was expanded and the National Archives were restored, and he authored the 1975 UNESCO resolution towards the preservation of historical landmarks in Afghanistan which declared Herat and Athens international cities to be preserved and protected under United Nations guidelines.
Khairzada was awarded the Meena Pal Gold Medal in 1968 by King Zahir Shah for his "vast contributions to the cultural life of Afghanistan," which, among a number of other efforts included his promotion and preservation of Afghan music, poetry and folklore, calligraphy for future generations.
Khairzada was born on September 9th, 1935. His father was co-founder of the Afghan Bank Melli and a business executive who sent him to the United States to attend Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey.
He received his degree from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. At Bard he studied with philosopher Heinrich Bluecher, Ralph Ellison, and Mary McCarthy, who along with Hannah Arendt, made a lasting impact on the future trajectory of his life and work.