He has written a few screenplays and has made a few short films. His first feature film Osama won Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.
There is a stylistic echo in Osama of the "Afghan" films by the Iranian Makhmalbaf dynasty - father Mohsen's Kandahar and daughter Samira Makhmalbaf's At Five in the Afternoon, the latter also shot in post-Taliban Kabul. Barmak directed Osama with significant funding and assistance from Mohsen Makhmalbaf; the Iranian director invested thousands of dollars in the film, lent Barmak his Arriflex camera and encouraged him to send the movie to international festivals, which eventually generated further funding from Japanese and Irish producers. Barmak received "UNESCO’s Fellini Silver Medal" for his drama, Osama, in 2003.
Barmak is also director of the Afghan Children Education Movement (ACEM), an association that promotes literacy, culture and the arts, founded by Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The school trains actors and directors for the newly emerging Afghan cinema. Barmak is one of the celebrated figures in Persian cinema as well as emerging cinema of Afghanistan.