Afghanistan Blog

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Afghan Films to Screen at Swedish Film Festival

TFOL DVD coverA selection of films from The Fruit of Our Labor-Afghan Perspectives in Film are screening at the 3rd Annual Afghan Documentary Film Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, December 11-13.

The films include Beyond Fatigue, by Baqir Tawakoli, Searching for a Path, by Reza Sahel, Death to the Camera, by Sayed Qasem Hossaini, ‘L’ is for Light, ‘D’ is for Darkness, by Hasibullah Asmaty and Bearing the Weight, by Mona Haidari. Congratulations to the filmmakers and to the festival organizers Basir Seerat and Amazon Rezai.

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Selections from “The Fruit of Our Labor” will air on the TV show, WORLDDOCS

Selections from “The Fruit of Our Labor” will air on the TV show, WORLDDOCS, broadcast on Fairfax Public Access (cable channel 10  in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties and the towns of Falls Church, Leesburg, and Fredericksburg in Virginia) on Monday, Feb. 2nd at 10 AM, Thursday, Feb. 5th at 1 AM, and Sunday, Feb. 8th at 8:30 PM. Thank you for allowing us to show it.

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WORLDDOCS airs on Fairfax Public Access (cable channel 10) in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia on

Mondays at 10:00 AM, Thursdays at 1:00 AM, and Sundays at 8:30 PM; on Montgomery Community Television (cable channel 19) in Montgomery and Prince

Georges counties in Maryland on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM and Thursdays at 11:00 PM (live-streamed at www.mymcmedia.org); and on DCTV (Comcast channels 95 & 96/RCN channels 10 & 11) in Washington, DC at various times (live-streamed at www.dctv.org).

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Distribution: New Distributor for The Fruit of Our Labor

download (1)CSFilm recently teamed up with Documentary Educational Resources (DER) to take over further distribution of The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film.

The mission of DER is to promote thought-provoking documentary film and media for learning about the people and cultures of the world. The main objectives of DER are to promote cross-cultural understanding, provide innovation and authenticity in storytelling and cinematic representation, to provide access to and preservation of the films, and to maintain a high quality of films.

“We represent films with enduring value as documents of human societies and cultures, that portray unique subjectivities, record diverse cultural practices and beliefs, and offer insights into the procefilmsses underlying social and cultural continuity and change. We look for films that reflect deep cultural knowledge, whether through research or the close collaboration of filmmaker and subjects.”

Visit the DER website to learn more about their work and if you haven’t already, view and learn more about CSFilm’s collection of Afghan-made films, The Fruit of Our Labor.

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Check Out Michael Sheridan on TEDx! – Why Local Perspectives are Necessary for a Balanced Information Diet

Conn College Logo“We all have to demand an improvement in our news diet. A balanced diet that’s less self-centric, that includes more local perspectives, will really help us be better informed, and therefore, more effective citizens.”    

On April 13, Michael Sheridan, an alumnus of Connecticut College, spoke at TEDxConnecticutCollege about Community Supported Film’s experience bringing local perspectives from Afghanistan to the U.S. through documentary filmmaking. Michael’s talk, entitled “Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives,” compares U.S. mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan with local Afghan stories to show the unbalanced state of the Western news diet. By highlighting this imbalance, Michael demonstrates a need for both perspectives in order to create sustainable solutions for ourselves and for Afghans. Watch Michael’s TEDx talk here and/or read the highlights below:

It becomes clear that news stories have the capacity to both help and harm people once you ask who is telling the story, why they are telling it, and how it influences the general public. In the case of mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan, which focuses on “war-centric” stories and stories that are most relatable to Americans, the Afghan perspective is lost, subsequently harming the Afghan people.

In his talk, Michael compares photos and videos from The New York Times and Frontline with videos produced through Community Supported Film’s trainings in Afghanistan to show the way in which the mainstream media’s perception of Afghan issues does not accurately reflect the daily problems that the Afghan people are facing. Instead of focusing on warfare and violence, the locally produced videos emphasize issues with water, illiteracy, and drug addiction. Michael states that more Afghans are killed by water issues than insurgents and that 87% of Afghans believe that men and women should have equal access to education. Those are shocking statistics for those who only see Afghans in Western media portrayed as violent and discriminatory towards women.

TEDx: On the Shoulders of Giants

“American reporters…and the American news industry [in general] are telling the story of our news in Afghanistan and not necessarily the news from Afghanistan.”

Through his TEDx talk, Michael Sheridan proves that telling the news from Afghanistan can only be accomplished through a balanced information diet of both mainstream and local perspectives, thereby highlighting the importance of the Community Supported Film mission.

 

TEDx events are locally organized gatherings held in the same format as the well-known TED talks. These events bring leading thinkers and doers together to share what they are most passionate about.

The theme of this year’s Connecticut College TEDx event was “On the Shoulders of Giants,” which highlighted the power of collaboration and the insights gained from a historical perspective.

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ACME Journal Review of The Fruit of Our Labor

The Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia, or ACME Journal reviewed CSFilm’s The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film in their last issue. Below you can read an excerpt from the review:

 

coverissue2Rather than being a single, comprehensive film, this production comprises ten separate short documentaries, each filmed by a different Afghani trained by Community Supported Film. They range in length from 6 to 20 minutes and focus on Afghani citizens going about their everyday affairs. They ‘bring to life Afghans’ efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions’, in the words of an accompanying brochure. These slice-of-life vignettes accomplish this goal and give some insight into the problems facing poor and working class Afghanis as they go about their daily routines. Most of the subjects are women, although six of the filmmakers are men. The subject of the war rarely comes up, but it is still a presence in several of the pieces.

‘L’ is for Light, ‘D’ is for Darkness (dir. Hasibullah Asmati, ed. Hamed Alizada, 12 mns) tracks a female teacher in a remote village as she goes house to house trying to persuade villagers to send their daughters to a newly established school in the wake of the Taliban’s departure. She wears a burqa that she takes off at some houses and at others leaves in place. She is welcomed at most houses, at others she is given excuses (‘her brother will not allow her to go to school’) and at one there is no answer at all to her persistent knocking. The local mulla supports the school, but has no power to compel the girls to attend. A final scene shows the school operating in a damaged building with no roof. Searching for a Path (dir. Reza Sahel, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 13 mns) focuses on a pushcart vendor in Kabul. A young man who peddles bananas from a wheelbarrow narrates this piece, explaining how he had tried other jobs, but could not make enough money. As he wheels his car through the streets of Kabul he talks about harassment by the police, his wedding debts, his hopes for his children (that they become doctors), and his aspiration to open a small shop. It is a hard life, but the vendor speaks without bitterness, just a sense of hope for something better.

In another remote village, pregnant women have to make a long trip to Kabul for maternity consultations because there is no local maternity clinic. Hands of Health (dir. Zahra Sadat, ed. Jawed Taiman,14 mns) has scenes of women baking bread, men constructing a stone wall and picking fruit, all the while talking about women’s health and the number of children a family should have. They also lament the fact that there are no local medical facilities, but even after the villagers have built a small clinic, the national government has not staffed or equipped it, leaving the women no better off than before.

Heroin addiction is a serious problem in Afghanistan. In The Road Above (dir. Aqeela Rezai, ed. Jawed Taiman, 6 mns) a woman named Mona is shown doing heavy manual labor (puddling concrete, shoveling gravel etc. for the construction of a road). Her husband is an addict and she has not seen him for months, thus she is forced to work to support herself and her family. Accompanied by a policeman, she goes searching for her husband at a site under a highway, where addicts congregate to shoot up. She has no luck in her quest, and concludes that he is probably dead and that it is better that way, as he was already lost.

Knocking on Time’s Door (also known as Opening the Door of Time, dir. Ahmad Wahid Zaman, ed. Hamed Alizada, 6 mns) profiles a former mujahidin fighter who has come back to his village and become a teacher. The former warrior is shown discussing with two comrades their time fighting the Taliban; then there are scenes of the construction of a school, followed by shots of students and teachers in the school and classroom. A vision of hope is projected, as the aging teacher plays volleyball with some young pupils.

Bearing the Weight (dir. Mona Haidari, ed. Hamid Arshia, 13 mns) also references the war, in that the protagonist, Shafiqa, lost her husband, newborn daughter and her leg in a rocket attack. But this is a story of redemption, as Shafiqa has been able to care for herself, her two sons and be a vital member of her community. She is shown teaching other disabled women how to sew and make garments. There is testimony about how she was inspired by other disabled women who strived to overcome their injuries and scenes of her counselling others. Nevertheless, things are difficult for the disabled in Afghanistan; Shafiqa remains very poor and suffers discrimination, not even able to hail a taxi. The piece ends with Shafiqa stating her ambitions for her two remaining children – to become educated and get a university degree.

Water is essential to life everywhere, but in parts of Afghanistan there is very little water to be had. Water Ways (dir. Majeed Zarand, ed. Jawed Taiman, 11 mns) chronicles the quest for water in a rural area of Afghanistan, where government programmes have helped some farmers tap the water-table dozens of meters below the surface, while other farmers are forced to rely on undependable rains and occasional good luck. Much of the farming is still done without the benefit of tractors or other modern technology. The film ends with scenes of a minor construction project financed by the government’s National Solidarity Programme. Afghanis are doing all they can to survive under difficult circumstances. Life is hardest for the poor. Beyond Fatigue (dir. Baqir Tawakoli, ed. Hamid Arshia, 9 mns) follows a woman who, in one day, visits her sick mother-in-law in a distant village, teaches small children at a mosque school, and works at a vocational training center operating a foot-treadle sewing machine. All this time she is accompanied by her young child for whom she cannot afford day care. Her dream is to get a loan that would enable her to buy her own sewing machine.

Treasure Trove (dir. Fakhria Ibrahimi, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 11 mns) is set in a very rustic bakery, where the women who operate it are showing splitting wood for the oven fires, kneading the dough, and baking the loaves in a tandoor. These are very poor women, who converse in a lively fashion amongst themselves and with other women who come to buy bread. The banter is often sexual in nature, and none of the women are veiled. It is a rare behind-the-scenes view of Afghan women at ease among themselves.

The final film, Death to the Camera (dir. Sayed Qasem Hossaini, ed. Hamed Alizada, 20 mns) is set at a work site where women, supervised by men, are making The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film 195 some kind of mud bricks. A few are wearing burqas, others not. Some of the women are interviewed and the film captures their responses, which reveal the tensions that define their situation. None of the women are very happy; it is hard, dirty work that some find shameful. They state that they are just ‘trying to make a living’. ‘Ignore our shame,’ says one. They complain about hiring practices (women from certain ethnic groups are hired last or not at all), the government of Hamid Karzai, unpaid wages and the like. Their comments are not without some humor, but it is a dark humor that reinforces the unfortunate plight of these marginalized women.

The mission of Community Supported Film is to produce films that show ‘realities often unrepresented in the media’ to ‘influence local and international perspectives on sustainable solutions for a more peaceful and equitable world’. The Fruit of Our Labor does a good job of conveying the plight of everyday Afghani citizens struggling to make ends meet in a very challenging environment. Thus, it fulfills the first part of the mission. Whether it can exert any influence depends on whether it is seen by those with the power to effect the changes needed to improve such people’s lives. Probably not. But it can be seen by students who may eventually be in positions to find solutions to the world’s problems, and thus it should be used in the classroom. It can educate students about the plight of women and the poor in countries like Afghanistan and can help them see where improvements can be made.

Peter S. Allen

Rhode Island College

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First International Women’s Film Festival in Afghanistan Features Two “Fruit of Our Labor” Directors

The first International Women’s Film Festival in Afghanistan was held this year from March 6th to 9th. The festival, scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day, was in Herat and featured 36 films from 20 countries on the theme of women and marginalized populations.

Mona HaidariBearing the Weight by Mona Haidari and The Road Above by Aqueela Rezai, both from the Fruit of Our Labor collection, were official selections. Congratulations to these women and their continued success! Read below to find out more about the festival.

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

By Nupur Basu of The Hindu
March 23, 2013

Stories of resilience dominated the first International Film Festival on Women in Afghanistan.

Around 700 years ago, Queen Goharshad, wife of a Timouri heir, is said to have inspired a Renaissance in Herat, Afghanistan’s western province. Seven centuries later, a group of women filmmakers in Afghanistan have inspired a similar change in their war-ravaged country. The historic city of Herat, close to the Iran border and the setting for Khaled Hosseini’s celebrated novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, played host to the First International Film Festival on Women from March 6-9.

The citadel, better known as Qala Ikhtyaruddin or Arg and said to have been built by Emperor Alexander around 300 BC, made a stunning venue. Over the next three days, women, men and children braved news of bomb blasts, snowfall, rain, icy winds and bright sunshine to watch 36 films from 20 countries on the theme of women and the marginalised, even as dozens of armed Afghan National Police stood guard outside. Like the awesome venue, this festival for women to observe International Women’s Day was a daring first in Afghanistan. “This is an unbelievable event for us and gives us a lot of hope that things can change one day,” said Wida Saghani, a homemaker living with her children, husband and in-laws in Herat.

As a province that has produced the maximum number of women filmmakers in Afghanistan in the last 10 years, it was not surprising that Herat was the venue. Ironically, in recent years, the province has also reported the maximum number of self-immolations by Afghan women, frustrated by forced marriages, lack of access to education and work and domestic violence.

In a long tunnel-like structure in the Citadel, stories about women and people living on the margins unfolded on the screen. Afghan filmmaker Alka Sadat, who was born in Herat, explored a recurrent problem in her Violence Against Women: 10 Years On. “Although no longer in power, the Taliban, it appears, is present in the shadows and their brutal practices and policies towards women, especially in the countryside, are still profoundly visible,” says Sadat, whose debut documentary bagged the Afghan Peace Prize.

The theme of a country ravaged by civil war surfaced in different ways. Laila, directed Batool Moradi, was a poignant documentary on mental illness caused by the stress of war through the stories of women in the mental institution of Red Cresent Hospital in Kabul. Stories of resilience, of women fighting the most challenging odds, came up in story after story. Both Again Life, by award-winning director Hassan Fazeli, and Bearing the Weight, by Mona Haidari, tell the stories of Afghan women who pick up the pieces of their lives devastated by war and soldier on. Well-known director and actor Aqueela Rezai depicts how men’s addiction to alcohol and drugs affects women in The Road Above. Addiction is a recurrent theme in Afghan fiction and non-fiction films. Zabiullah Fahim in Flavour of Powder tells a terrifying tale of a poor addict who tears up his daughter’s belly and leaves his wife with the drug dealer in exchange for heroin. In Icy Sun, Ramin Mohammadi tells another chilling tale of a young woman who aspires to be an actor and ends up being raped and sold to a drug dealer.

The subject of immigration is also an important issue. In an Afghan and Slovakia co-production Light Breeze: Memories of an Immigrant Girl, Sahraa Karimi weaves a screenplay around her own experiences in a new country. Through poems and notes in her diary, the protagonist depicts her innermost feelings as an immigrant. In Where Do I Belong, a film from Iran, Mahvash Sheikholeslami tells the story of Iranian girls married to Afghan men living in Iran and Afghanistan.

“I find women filmmakers from Afghanistan very avant-garde, extremely brave. The women from Iran certainly have better technical expertise and support but, as far as depicting the feelings, emotions and storytelling go, women filmmakers from Afghanistan are on a par. Both tell their stories from the heart,” says Marziyeh Riahi, Editor-in-Chief of Short Film News from Iran.

Oscar-winning Afghan director Sediq Barmak was all praise for the courage shown by Afghan women filmmakers who are pursuing their creative talents, despite threats from fundamentalist forces. “This was a landmark festival for women in Afghanistan and filmmakers in this country and I hope that the government comes forward to support this festival every year in Herat.”

The festival was the brainchild of Roya Sadat, Afghanistan’s leading woman director, who was born and schooled in Herat. She chose Herat as the venue because “in a place where women do not really come out of their homes, they have stepped out to watch our festival. Nothing could give me more pleasure and joy.”

Afghanistan’s film industry, which was virtually decimated during the Taliban years, has been struggling to find its feet in the last 10 years. Director of Afghan Films Ibrahim Arify, who was at the festival, remarked that the number of women in Afghan films has been climbing. “What they need is co-productions, scholarships and training programmes.”

Besides films from Afghanistan and Iran, the festival included films from India, Venezuela, Tajikistan, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Turkey, France, Canada and Thailand.

As the curtains came down, the rich voices of Sufi singers and traditional Persian musical instruments filled the citadel square as hundreds of women, men and children enjoyed this cultural bonanza. The sounds of bomb blasts faded as Heratis once again relished this moment of deep freedom, even if momentarily, in the seat of culture in Afghanistan.

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“The Eyes of a People” A New Short Film by Rémy De Vlieger

Check out a new film about Afghanistan called “The Eyes of a People.”

The Eyes of a People
The Eyes of the People is a 6 minute film by Remy De Vlieger which follows the Mothers for Peace NGO. Mothers for Peace has been working in Afghanistan for more than ten years and the film captures the hope of a people who try to make a fresh start, despite a painful past and an uncertain future. This short film is not just about the NGO programs, but also highlights the Afghan people and Kabul’s beauty, showing another face of Afghanistan.  Watch the documentary here.

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Before and After a Training – Look, Listen and Witness the Transformation

Before and After a Training – Look, Listen and Witness the Transformation

by Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director of Community Supported Film

From November to January I did three trainings in Indonesia and one in Afghanistan.  These commissioned trainings have provided wonderful opportunities to try CSFilm’s extremely efficient training model in different configurations – with both radio and video storytellers, and with media makers of different skill levels.

In Indonesia I was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to provide three, 4-day trainings for people with some background in filmmaking.

In Indonesia I was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to provide three, 4-day trainings for people with some background in filmmaking.

In Indonesia I was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to provide three, 4-day trainings for people with some background in filmmaking. Yes, four days is a ridiculously short time – especially with the expectation of creating completed pieces by the end of each training. My first response was “No, it’s not possible”. But then I negotiated for more equipment for the students and decided to go for it. In each city I had 50 students, and in two cities the students varied dramatically from high school students to college professors, from hands-on filmmakers to critics. In Denpensar, Bali, it was more of a uniform audience of makers.

What fun it all was! But also incredibly intense. The trainings were called “Back to Basics – Lived Reality Documentary Filmmaking.” In a culture of top-down, highly directed and often overly narrated storytelling, my mission was to strip down the production work and encourage character-centric, experiential storytelling.

I’d like to show you two clips that demonstrate how the students’ work transformed over just four days.

On the first day, the students were asked to shoot one complete scene of a hotel worker, kitchen staff, cleaner, gardner, etc…, with all the required coverage and cut-aways. They were asked to pay careful attention to their visual storytelling, scene completeness, use of lens focal lengths, camera positioning, framing and composition. They were specifically requested to keep an invisible wall between themselves and the subject, – meaning not to engage or direct who they are filming.

The silent filme below is one example of what was made as a result of this first exercise, and shows the approach the students came to the training with. As you can see it is really hard for this group of Indonesian students not to direct and to engage with their subjects. They are used to a very top-down production style.

Over the next two days we practiced intensely and hammered home further lessons on lived-reality documentary principles.

On the last day the students were asked to produce a short video profile on a subject from the community.  The video below is what was produced only three days later.  It demonstrates what the training emphasizes: visual, character-driven, scene-based and experiential filmmaking.  The viewer is engaged in the challenges that horse and buggy taxis are facing.

Interviews

In Afghanistan I was commissioned by America Abroad Media (check out their great podcasts here) to work with their Afghan staff in Kabul on storytelling skills for a radio series they were producing on Afghan women entrepreneurs.  Even though they were working only with sound, the challenges for the team were very similar: they needed less narration, more voices of story subjects, and much more ‘lived-reality’ natural sound.

Below is a brief sample of what the pieces sounded like before the training. Of course you probably won’t understand what is being said, but you can certainly get a sense for the general flavor of the sound environment which is only made up of music, long narrations and interviews – no scenes or experience of the  world the characters are living in.

Part 10 Radio Doc 2 09 2012 Excerpt

Below is what the same staff were producing just 10 days later after going through a series of exercises in natural sound recording, scene structure, story and script development, and interviewing.  This story about ram fighting leads in with a sound scene that draws the listener in to want to know what is happening. The loud noises are the rams slamming into a panel with garlic on it, which angers them. The scene includes natural conversation that then leads to the same person speaking in an interview to further inform the listener. The story develops with a number of additional characters that introduce various issues related to ram fighting, its practice, and whether it is a proper activity for the animals and for Muslims.

Final Project Ram Fighting –  Excerpt

The radio staff did an incredible job, working with great perseverance to ‘get it’ and to put what they learned into practice right away.

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International Women’s Day Short Films – with CSFilm’s “The Fruit of Our Labor” – Baltimore, MD

Creative Alliance

 

 

 

Creative Alliance and the Baltimore Resettlement Center present….

International Women’s Day: Short Films Series and Panel Presentation

Thursday March 7th, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 3.00.51 PMCreative Alliance at The Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, MD 21224

$12 general admission, $7 members and students.
Information tables and craft market begins at 7pm.

info@creativealliance.org, 401-276-1651

The Road Above - Wheelbarrow 640 72 small, square

Victory to Change is a documentary by Baltimore-based filmmaker Gregory Walsh. It follows two remarkable female Indian activists as they fight for the most marginalized members of society.  Community Supported Film, an organization that trains storytellers from developing countries as filmmakers, presents three shorts by Afghans.  Art of Solidarity, MICA in Nicaragua, presents The Mothers of Martyrs, a documentary that revisits the Nicaraguan Revolution 30 years later by interviewing mothers who survived. They reflect on the tragedies of war with the goal of passing on their stories to a new generation and advocating for world peace.

Panel discussion will follow, with Elizabeth Alex from Casa Maryland, Aida Pinto-Baquero from Patterson Park Public Charter School’s Mis Raices, Sawsan Al-Sayyab of International Rescue Committee, and members of the Baltimore Women’s Forum – a monthly dialogue group of refugee women, including Mary Kinyoli of Kenya, and Nidaa Haseeb of Iraq.

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Kabul in Winter – Training and Production Goes On

Kabul in DecemberDespite the winter weather, the trainees – 6 National Solidarity Program production staff – have completed preproduction research and story development and are heading to Jalalabad and Kapisa Provinces for production of three stories. Working in teams of two, teams will cover men’s Community Development Council (CDC) stories in in Jalalabad, and women’s CDC and election process stories in Kapisa.training in Kabul December 2012

CSFilm director Michael Sheridan is currently in Afghanistan conducting an intensive documentary filmmaking training for staff from the Public Communications Office at the National Solidarity Program (NSP). The training will culminate in the creation of a short documentary that illustrates the successes of this nation-wide, Afghan-led program that has empowered local communities to implement small development projects to respond directly to local needs.

Nangahar Production Day

Organized through 22,000 district level councils, NSP initiatives have resulted in over 55,000 development projects across the country – including power and irrigation projects, and the buidling of schools and clinics. These locally-run projects tend to cost a fraction of what is spent by International contractors and the US military, and are noted for their acceptance by locals and for their ability to create jobs for Afghans.

Kabul in Winter

The finished film will be shown as part of a US tour by NSP to encourage Congress to pledge ongoing funding and support. This is a fantastic opportunity to have Afghans tell their own development stories directly to decisionmakers, advocating for Afghan-run social and economic development initiatives.

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Watch the Video Conference: Afghan Civil Society in Conversation

The Way Forward: An Afghan Conversation

Watch a recorded video conversation with Afghan Civil Society Activists here.

Afghanistan is like a cancer patient that accidentally survived, with too many doctors giving everything they can rather than listening to what this patient wants, and allowing it to walk on its own. – Hassina Sherjan

We are living in a new era… If you look at the number of youth – the ambitions and the progressive spirit that not only the youth, but a bigger proportion of society has – it’s incredible. – Najib Sharifi

Click here to check out the Twitter Summary for December 06, 2012

Download Press Release

Sign up to get notifications about other events and information regarding Afghan Civil Society.

Watch the live conference call with Afghan Civil Society activists (see bios below) to learn more about the current situation in Afghanistan.  With upcoming milestones such as the removal of NATO/US forces and presidential elections to replace Hamid Karzai after 10 years of rule, it is an opportune time to have a discussion about the positive role U.S. civil society can play at this crucial junction in history.

The way the war in Afghanistan ends for the United States may be very different than the way it ends – or doesn’t end – for the people of Afghanistan.  In the US, the discussion is often framed through military strategy, and rarely includes Afghan perspectives.  How will Afghans cope with the upcoming transitions, such as the removal of NATO forces and the Afghan Presidential elections in 2014, and what is an appropriate and responsible role for the US?

Organized by:

Community Supported FilmAmerican Friends Service Committee

Bios of Participants in Kabul, Afghanistan:

Sayed Ikram Afzali is the co-founder and president of Youth in Action Association – a non-profit youth-led organization dedicated to enhancing peace and sustainable development in Afghanistan. He has been a youth advocate and development professional for the past decade focusing on peace building and anti-corruption issues. With an aim to help rebuild Afghanistan, Afzali returned to Afghanistan after 20 years of refugee life in Pakistan. Affected by years of conflict in the region, he has been a strong believer in bringing about peace through youth using non-violent approaches – such as using sport as a vehicle for peacebuilding. Sayed has also worked with the United Nations and other national organizations for more than seven years in the area of democratic governance with a focus on civil society and anti-corruption. He is currently Head of Advocacy and Communication at Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA)

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) was established as an independent civil society organization in 2006. IWA’s mission is to put corruption under the spotlight by increasing transparency, integrity, and accountability in Afghanistan through the provision of policy-oriented research, the development of training tools, and through facilitation of policy dialogue.

Hassina Serjan is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aid Afghanistan for Education and the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Boumi Company – an internationally recognized women-owned home accessory business. Hassina co-authored the book Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, and has published numerous op-eds in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA Today, and more. She received a Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School and has an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Queen’s University in Canada.

Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE) is dedicated to empowering Afghans and rehabilitating the education system in Afghanistan, and provides primary and secondary education for marginalized Afghans. Boumi – Farsi for “indigenous” – manufactures Afghan-made products with raw materials produced in Afghanistan, supplying high-end products to the global marketplace.


Najib SharifiNajib Sharifi 
is the Founder and Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization.  Najib is a medical doctor by training, but over the past ten years he has worked for some of the leading news organizations around the world including the New York Times, BBC, CNN, National Public Radio and the Washington Post.  He has researched for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit and Human Rights Watch.  In addition, he served as senior political officer for the Office of the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan.  In 2009, Najib won a Humphrey/Fulbright scholarship and studied public policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Najib’s analysis and opinion pieces have appeared on various Western media outlets including South Asia Global Affairs and the foreign policy magazine.  He is a frequent commentator of issues of domestic Afghan politics and foreign policy of the Western countries towards Afghanistan on Afghan and international media.

Afghanistan New Generation Organization is a non-profit youth empowerment organization with aims to empower the youth to become competent community advocates by providing training in such areas as public speaking, media literacy, and use of information technology among others.

Michael SheridanMichael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film, is a filmmaker, educator and activist. For nearly 20 years Michael has engaged the public in stories from Asia, Africa and the Americas about people in poor and developing communities challenging the status quo and struggling to improve their lives. Michael co-founded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit and has sought to break new ground in the effective use of media to educate and change policy. He has taught documentary filmmaking for 15 years at the community and university level, extensively in the United States and Afghanistan, and as a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia.

Community Supported Film strengthens the documentary filmmaking capacity in crisis and post-crisis communities where the dissemination of objective and accurate information is essential. Local women and men are trained to produce stories on their community’s socioeconomic issues, and the resulting films are screened in audience engagement campaigns. Michael founded Community Supported Film in 2010 with a pilot program in Afghanistan that resulted in the production of 10 Afghan-made films, The Fruit or Our Labor. Michael also runs his filmmaking company SheridanWorks.

Moderated by:

Peter Lems

Peter Lems is the Program Director of education and advocacy for Iraq and Afghanistan at the American Friends Service Committee. He is also the co-coordinator of the Wage Peace campaign, a program initiative that seeks to wage peace with the same determination and energy that nations wage war.

The American Friends Service Committee carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world. Founded by Quakers in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors with an opportunity to aid civilian war victims, AFSC’s work attracts the support and partnership of people of many races, religions, and cultures.

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Exclusive online broadcast of “Death to the Camera” – Nov. 26 – Dec. 2, at GoodMenProject.com

The Good men ProjectThe Good Men Project exclusively presents “Death to the Camera,” one of the ten documentary films in the collection The Fruit of Our Labor – Afghan Perspectives in Film. For one week only, the full 20 minute film will be available to watch on their website!

The Good Men Project writes, “Stylistically, the documentary reminded me of 12 Angry Men in that the narrative thrust is carried not by scene changes but by what can result from a lack of them: a laser-like focus into a situation and the jagged edges of multiple minds trying to resolve something together. In this case, Death to the Camera shows Afghan women on a work site…” Read the rest of the article and watch the film here.

The Good Men Project is a diverse, multi-faceted media company and an idea-based social platform, fostering a national discussion centered around modern manhood. They write about fatherhood, family, sex, ethics, war, gender, politics, sports, pornography, and aging. Their content reflects the multidimensionality of men, searching far and wide for new stories and new voices from “the front lines of modern manhood,” without moralizing and without caricaturizing their audience.

 

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Radio Afghanistan – Update November 21, 2012

Sound checkFollow along with Michael Sheridan’s second journal entry from the radio documentary training in Kabul, Afghanistan for the Afghan staff of America Abroad Media (AAM).  (The first journal entry can be read here.)

Saturday’s training reviewed principles of storytelling and structure, treatments and interest statements. Three teams of two went off to research stories they could turn into character driven, lived-reality radio pieces. Each team is to produce a narrative description of the story to be produced.

Making the shot

Sunday the teams pitched their stories to each other, followed by a peer-review based on the interest statements and story structure potential. Two of the three were determined very good and one was determined to be an issue without a story vehicle. The team agreed to find a new story or a way to address the issue they were raising through a viable character and series of scenes.
On Monday, the three teams of two started production. One story is about a litigator at the attorney general’s who makes 80% of his income from raising pigeons on his roof.  The second centers on a car mechanic who is designing and building an original model of luxury car from spare parts and ingenuity. Finally, the third story is about a butcher who is raising rams for fighting even though it is prohibited by Islam and his Mullah.  Interestingly enough, his Mosque looks out on the area used for the competitions.

Pigeon story

With production now complete, the teams spent a sleepless night, transcribing and logging their material. This morning we reviewed their material and worked together on a draft story structure – of scenes and interview material – for them to construct into a paper edit. Time is very tight but if we burn some more midnight oil we hope to have the edits finished by tomorrow (Nov. 22) evening.

Scripting

 

On a more practical note, this past Monday I woke up to no water in the guesthouse and electricity was not on at the AAM offices, which meant we were cold as well as powerless. No one was sure whether there was a problem because of the near-by construction or because of the rolling blackouts announced by the Central Power Authority, deemed necessary to control overloads as winter approaches. Despite the lack of power and the daunting threat of cold, some new and exciting developments might lead to an extended stay here in Afghanistan. Updates to follow or, I’ll continue with my plan to spend two more weeks here on CSFilm production work, followed by a visit to family in India before returning to the States on Dec. 15th.

 

In addition to working on the training program this last week, I made some time to see Carol Dysinger’s Camp Victory, Afghanistan. The film follows, over three years, NATO’s efforts to train Afghan soldiers and to help build a viable Afghan military. The film was shown at The Venue – an artsy, restaurant café with what is I believe, but don’t quote me, Kabul’s only recording studio. A young American woman – a former New England Conservatory cello student – opened it with her Afghan partner after coming to Afghanistan to teach at the music school. The Venue allows the couple to do something more than host Afghan musicians in their living room!

Set upThe Venue puts on concerts, events and screenings and stands out as an expat hangout that is also open to Afghans – giving local bands the unusual opportunity to play for Afghans (follow The Venue on Facebook and/or Twitter).

Please check back, and follow along on Facebook or Twitter for more updates soon!

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Radio Documentary Training in Kabul, Afghanistan – November, 2012

TextilesCommunity Supported Film founder and director Michael Sheridan is currently in Kabul, Afghanistan conducting an intensive 10-day radio documentary training for 6 Afghans, sponsored and organized by America Abroad Media.  Follow along with Michael’s journal entry updates, below.

 November 13, 2012 – Update from Afghanistan

I’m now in Kabul to conduct a radio documentary training for the Afghan staff of America Abroad Media, and yesterday was a tough roller coaster ride of a day.  The first day of training went surprisingly well – considering I had had my computer stolen, seemingly from my room at the guest house, the day before.  I had to start my plans all over, figuring everything out at the last minute.  It was a lesson in staying very focused and not freaking out as I tried to piece together one thing after another: one breath, one thought, one element of a task, one stumble at a time…and such exhaustion.  It is incredible that almost everything, except some specific radio oriented training prep and research I had done recently, seems to be saved in Dropbox online or on my backup drives…Continue reading here.

 

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Radio Documentary Training in Kabul, Afghanistan – November, 2012

November 13, 2012 – Update from Afghanistan

Gathering for lunch

I’m now in Kabul to conduct a radio documentary training for the Afghan staff of America Abroad Media, and yesterday was a tough roller coaster ride of a day.  The first day of training went surprisingly well – considering I had had my computer stolen, seemingly from my room at the guest house, the day before.  I had to recreate syllabus and plans.  It was a lesson in staying very focused as I pieced together one thing after another: one breath, one thought, one element of a task, one stumble at a time…and such exhaustion. It is incredible that almost everything, except some specific radio oriented training prep and research I had done recently, seems to be saved in Dropbox online or on my backup drives.

Textile Factory

Fortunately I was maintaining backups while in Indonesia to my externalhard drives and very fortunately had brought all my software backups. This great fortune allowed me, without too much difficulty, to setup my Avid editing software on the Mac at the office for my editing demonstrations. I had to really dig into my years of ‘figuring it out’ and got lucky overcoming some barriers that could have gotten me stuck for days, or maybe made it unworkable.

I’m using a PC laptop that Fareedoone, local director for America Abroad Media, very generously and immediately lent me. I am, however, finding it incredibly difficult figuring out how to accomplish simple tasks; it really makes me slow down and breath! It was amazing how Fareedoone immediatly sent over a laptop for me when I called to tell him mine had been lost. There was markedly no commiseration over the lost computer – just immediate response and assistance;  loss  is  very relative here and people protect themselves by not dwelling on it. The depth of the emotional scars and the stability of the mental state never ceases to boggle.

InterviewsThe training is all men, 6-8 people depending on who shows up, a mixture of Pashtuns, Tajiks and Turkmen.  After decades of ethnic conflict, it is very hard for people here to trust each other and most people only work with people they know from within their family and long established circles – and this often divides sharply on geographic and ethnic lines. America Abroad Media, like so many other organizations, strives for diversification and to break the practice of relationships trumping performance.  It is always a challenge in  country where, after decades of slaughter, fear of the other creates very strong resistance and never-ending divisions.

There are very ambitious expectations for the training. The contract is for radio, but the trainees would like several days to be spent on video production as well. There are some big misunderstandings about what makes a documentary successful and about the business of documentary filmmaking abroad.  It is not believable to them that filmmakers aren’t hired and paid consistently and substantially in the west. Some are completely baffled when I tell them that many people make films without any ‘return on investment;’ they wonder why a filmmaker would bother.

A little downtime

The second day of training was really good. The electricity goes off and on so maintaining a flow around the editing and sound work today was a bit hard. But it still went well, and it is such a pleasure to be working with people who are so eager to learn and improve.  I went with the trainees on a shoot, separate from the training work. (On principle during trainings I don’t go out with the students on assignments – they have to dive in and learn by doing without becoming dependent on a guiding hand). The shoot was for a series they do called “When There is No War.” It profiles people’s hobbies and pleasures in life. Today’s story was on a man with homing pigeons.

In terms of the ‘state of affairs” here, the general mood seems to be ‘prepare for war and hope for peace’. As one colleague described to me, many Afghans are looking for ‘fellowships’ abroad, or figuring out where and how they will get their families out — all while standing tall and patriotic for peace (or war) at the same time. He did emphasize that there are real efforts, particularly by some younger activists and NGO/government people, to move towards a more viable peace process. While fearing the worst, most really can’t believe that it is Déjà vu 1989.

Read Michael’s second journal entry here.

 

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Death to the Camera wins $10,500 Award at Winterthur Short Film Festival, Switzerland

Death to the CameraCongratulation to CSFilm trainee Sayed Qasem Hossaini, whose short film Death to the Camera won the competitive Promotional Award at the International Short Film Festival in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Download full Press Release for Death to the Camera Winterthur.

Death to the Camera was a collaboration of minds and talents, including the very hard and smart work of the Afghan editor, Hamid Alizadha, Jamal Aram, interpreter and translator, and CSFilm director Michael Sheridan.

International Kurzfilmtage

The award is worth 10,000 swiss francs ($10,500).  “The Jury gives the prize to this documentary because it offers a stage to men and women from the margin of society to raise their voices and reflect injustice and manipulation.  The magnetism of the documentary medium is powerfully present in this film.”

Qasem was able to accept the award via Skype video conference between Switzerland and Afghanistan.

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Support an end to war that secures peace for Afghans

Afghan civilians are asking for a responsible and sustained engagement by the international community that will secure their peace and not only the end of the international community’s war.  Every week I hear from Afghan friends and colleagues about their fear that the international community is abandoning them to another civil war and humanitarian crisis.

What Afghans see everyday on their news, is a situation that looks more and more like a return to the 80s and 90s when their plight was ignored, 32+% were displaced as refugees and 10s of thousands of civilians were killed. Afghans hope we will not promote outcomes that lead them to look back 10 years from now at an Afghanistan once again left to civil war and humanitarian disaster.

As Zahra Sadat, Afghan NGO leader and maker of the film Hands of Health, stated during on congressional briefing, “American troops … are fighting a war rather than creating stability and peace. [The US] should focus their attention more on diplomatic approaches and dialogue rather than fighting a war.”

We should help Afghans achieve the following:

1. NATO shifts its combat mission to a population protection strategy until a long-term international and culturally sensitive stabilization force is mounted and deployed;
2. The UN leads all-party regional peace talks to extricate Afghanistan from its geopolitical conflict;
3. The international community transfers a fraction of the billions spent on a failed military strategy to fund cost-effective and locally implemented economic and social development projects that have proven their value and efficacy and are essential for long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.

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BTKW – Educational Curriculum about the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, provided by Primary Source

Primary Source About Us

Primary Source, an organization that connects educators with history and humanities resources from around the world, has developed an educational curriculum using Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War.  BTKW’s trailer is used as a springboard to analyze post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan, drawing comparisons between the top-down approach of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and the bottom-up approach of the National Solidarity Program.

Please share this curriculum with any contacts you may have who work in education. The curriculum is most appropriate for high school students.

Modern Afghanistan: Making Meaning in the Aftermath of Conflict

Background

In conflict-laden regions, improving the region’s infrastructure is often seen as a key to restoring stability and security. In Afghanistan, a nation that has witnessed more than 30 years of war, a number of different reconstruction efforts have occurred since the U.S.-led military intervention, with varying degrees of success. Using what has been termed a “hearts and minds” approach to military policy, the United States and its allies have focused on rebuilding infrastructure as a way to foster support among the Afghan people. The different reconstruction models in Afghanistan illustrate the various tensions involved when outside nations work to rebuild war torn regions. This activity draws upon a documentary film to consider those issues and asks the following questions: What is the optimal relationship between external aid providers and local participation? What factors are important to consider?

Numerous government and nongovernmental organizations have been involved in rebuilding Afghanistan. The documentary film featured here focuses on two of these programs. The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), was established in late 2002 as a collaboration between the military (U.S.-led Coalition and NATO forces) and the civilian population for the purpose of improving security, government, and facilitating reconstruction. PRTs operated in various regions and were designed to create programs that reached local needs and focused on activities such as building or improving power grids, communication, schools, literacy, vaccinations, and creating jobs. Evidence of the program’s impact is limited, however, some critics of the program claim that these teams often built facilities that the nation of Afghanistan could not afford or sustain long-term and that the programs subverted the Afghan central government.

Similarly, the National Solidarity Program (NSP), the largest development program in Afghanistan, was established in 2003 under the Afghan government (with donor partners that included the World Bank, USAID, the United Kingdom, Japan and other members of the international community) to aid in reconstruction. NSP efforts centered on locally-controlled “Community Development Councils” throughout Afghanistan that allowed local villagers to decide what reconstruction projects to pursue. This greater degree of input from and empowerment of the local community bolstered the success of the NSP, and proponents have hailed the program as a model for other nations.

In this activity, students will watch a pre-production reel of the film Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War to examine how the PRT and NSP programs operated in Afghanistan and consider how reconstruction efforts are negotiated in the aftermath of conflict. Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War, produced by Community Supported Film and filmed by Afghans, provides a local Afghan perspective on rebuilding efforts. The film’s trailer provides an overview of some of these reconstruction programs and allows students to consider how foreigners and locals have worked together to make changes that can last.

For the complete curriculum visit Primary Source.

Curriculum by Ann Marie Gleeson

Primary Source

 

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Muslim Media Watch: “Films by Afghan Women Tell Real Stories of Struggle, Patience, and Hope”

 

 

November 15th, 2011
Samya

Women in Afghanistan tend to be depicted as enigmatic objects that defy human comprehension. Media sensationalism and selective reporting bear some of the blame. But thanks to projects like an Afghanistan-based Community Supported Film workshop that trained men and women on how to tell the stories on film, Afghan women are now also using media to represent themselves. Read the full article.

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Voice of America releases special report on Community Supported Film

Voice of America produced a special report on the training and production work of Community Supported Film in Afghanistan. Special thanks to Philippa Levenberg for her work on this and to trainee Hasib Asmaty for his participation.

You can also see the report in Dari or Pashto here: VOA facebook

Voice of America Report on CSFilm’s Afghan Training from CSFilm / SheridanWorks on Vimeo.

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