Issues & Analysis
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We did it, and now… Haitians, Afghans, New Immigrants and Refugees

Dear Friend of Community Supported Film,

I hope your year is off to a good start and you are not badly affected by the season’s challenging weather.

training production engagement graphic - screen shot

I wanted to give you a quick update on our activities since December. First of all, our 2013 year-end fundraiser was a great success, raising $26,561, surpassing our $20,000 goal!

This good news is allowing us to:

1. Move forward with our plans to train new immigrants and refugees in documentary filmmaking. At meetings over the last few weeks with local immigrant and refugee organizations, we have heard that immigration reform, while stalled, will likely move forward after the November mid-term elections but probably not until the 2015 congressional session. In any case, community activists are suggesting that our joint storytelling and public engagement work will be most effective if it calls attention to issues that new immigrants and refugees will face after reform is passed.

What no one is talking about is that immigration reform is just the beginning of the process of fully integrating our new immigrants and refugees. With this in mind, we are organizing a local summit meeting, to finalize story focus, engagement strategies, and timing.

2. Train Haitians to tell their stories about effective and ineffective aid after the earthquake in 2010. This initiative is gaining traction with Haitians and organizations concerned with disaster management and sustainable economic development. All agree that the films will have most impact if released in advance of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

We are very motivated by the potential impact of this project, but know that it is a huge undertaking for the coming year. To fully fund it, we plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in May, in addition to seeking ongoing foundation support.

3. Continue our work with volunteers from Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Consulting Program. Since last fall, these volunteers have generously offered their time and expertise to develop CSFilm’s strategic plan. This has been enormously helpful as we solidify the vision and mission of our young but determined organization.

4. In Afghanistan the only certainty is uncertainty. In light of this we have decided to wait until after the elections, which will likely not end until mid-year, and the summer “fighting season,” to access how we can most effectively continue our work.

As you can see we have big plans to expand and deepen our mission. We hope to earn your continued intellectual and moral support as we forge ahead.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Michael Signature

 

 

 

 

Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director
Community Supported Film

P.S. Please help us spread the word about the work of Community Supported Film by letting us know if there is an individual, organization or foundation you could introduce us to.

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Digital Communications Workshop with Michael Sheridan

Community Supported Filmmaking: From Afghanistan to Boston’s Immigrant Community, a Digital Communications Workshop with Michael Sheridan

Date: Friday, February 14th, 2014
Time: 2:10 – 4 pm
Location: RG 20, Rubenstein Building, Ground Floor, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Illustrating principles of video storytelling, filmmaker Michael Sheridan will present highlights of his work in Afghanistan and Indonesia training activists, journalists and storytellers to make their own documentary films. Against that background he will discuss his current project similarly to empower recent immigrants to Boston to tell their stories with video. Catherine Rielly will Harvard talkshare insights on how she uses DevCom films in her work with Rubia and immigrant groups in New Hampshire. Michael Sheridan, DevCom Mentor since 2001, Michael is an independent producer of film and video with a special interest in international issues of social and economic development in Africa and Asia. As a Fullbright Fellow, he spent a year in Indonesia teaching filmmaking, subsequently trained 10 Afghan filmmakers to make documentaries about issues in their communities. Michael is the founder of Community Supported Film: www.CSFilm.org.

Charles Mann, following his retirement from a career as a development economist with the Harvard Institute for International Development and The Rockefeller Foundation, founded the Development Communications Workshop, a collaboration with filmmakers to help students use video effectively for development and to produce documentaries about development issues. www.DevComWorkshop.org

Catherine Rielly, experienced development economist, teacher, DevCom Executive Producer, is the Executive Director of Rubia, a non-profit organization that promotes empowerment of Afghan women and immigrants in Manchester, New Hampshire: www.rubiahandwork.org See her TEDx talk, “Empowerment by Stealth: Sewing Confidence, Literacy and Unexpected Power” : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evh7ke5lJPY

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The Messenger is the Message: Lecture at Mass Art

This March, Michael Sheridan of CSFilm will be giving a lecture entitled: “The Messenger is the Message: Why I Worked with Afghans to Tell Their Own Stories” at the Massachusetts School of Art and Design.

Below is a brief description of the lecture: CSF_DVD_image_small

Frustrated by the American media’s self-centered battlefront depiction  of Afghanistan, Michael went in 2009 to make a documentary from the  perspective of Afghan villagers. To match the method to the message, he  trained Afghan women and men in lived-reality documentary  filmmaking. The intensive 5-week training resulted in a compilation of  ten short films that provide a unique view of Afghans’ daily efforts to  address their challenging social and economic conditions.

CSFilm Training Afghanistan

As Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now, reported, “Michael put cameras in the hands of Afghans and gave them training to make films about their lives. The result is an unprecedented intimate look at Afghan life with exchanges no outsider has been privy to before.” From Michael’s work in Afghanistan, he developed Community Supported Film an organization dedicated to strengthening documentary storytelling from the local perspective.

Michael will talk about the process, show excerpts from the films made by the Afghan trainees and compare them to the stories and images provided by the mainstream media. You can watch excerpts of the films here.

The lecture will be held on Thursday, March 20th, 2014 at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, in the Trustees Room (11th Floor, Tower Building) Boston, MA. Light refreshments will be served at 6:00pm, lecture begins at 6:30 pm.

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Afghanistan’s Fight for Democracy, a presentation by High School student Nick Degug

 

This winter Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film was contacted by high school student Nick Degug to answer some questions about Afghanistan. Below is a sample of the interview and a photograph of Nick’s final presentation.

 Dear Michael,IMG_07691

One of the toughest things about doing this project is that there is a lot of information available but the more I read about Afghanistan, the more I question what to believe and what is erroneous.

ND:What time frame were you in Afghanistan?

MS: I began research for my work in Afghanistan in 2008.  In 2009 I went on my first production trip during which I produced the trailer for a film in development-Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War. During this trip I decided to concentrate on training Afghans in documentary filmmaking.  In 2010 I returned in June for fundraising, partnership development and pre-training work.  October through December 2010 the training, production and screenings of The Fruit of Our Labor occurred.  In 2011 and 2012 I made multiple trips to mentor trainees through commissioned projects and to develop a sustainable program in Afghanistan.   The work continues.

ND: How does the violence in Afghanistan today compare to that of 2001?

MS: I did not experience Afghanistan in 2001, but generally speaking after the NATO invasion in 2002, during which there were substantial civilian casualties, the violence rose from 2002 to 2011 and has since leveled off to 2009 levels.  There was little battle front war activity during the Taliban regime 1996-2001 – although it was a brutal regime in terms of its implementation of Sharia Law and a harsh justice system.

ND:How have Afghans’ lives improved since you have been there and provided this opportunity to express themselves?

MS: For the long view, most Afghans were either survivors of the long civil war, the Taliban, or refugees before 2001.  Afghanistan has seen the largest repatriation of refugees of any country in the world.  These people are settling back into a country that has not had a stable government, except for the Taliban, since the late 1970s.  Afghans for the most part do not refer to their country being at war since 2002.  When they talk about the war they are typically referring to the very violent, bloody and country-wide civil war from the 80s through the 90s.  The American ‘war’ of the last decade is an insurgency.  Most of the country does not experience war, but is at risk of intermittent insurgent or NATO/Afghan National Army attacks and skirmishes.

For Afghans the last 10 years has been primarily about recovering from the civil war and Taliban extreemism.  This is most important in terms of clearing landmines from agricultural lands, rebuilding basic infrastructure, electricity, water systems, sanitation and roads.  Slowly, produce and products are coming back on line and people are starting to be able to buy staples produced in Afghanistan.  Until recently most everything consumed in Afghanistan was being imported – primarily from Pakistan.

From the perspective of the media and journalism sectors, there were no media outlets/TV stations allowed during the Taliban – for cultural and political reasons. Now the country has hundreds of radio stations – mostly province based – through which most Afghans get their news and information (the country has ~80% illiteracy).  TV stations in Kabul alone now number in the 40-50 range.  The lack of electricity in most of the country prohibits rural penetration of TV. Journalism is getting back on its feet but there is a lot of work to be done to strengthen this important sector and thereby the democratic, social and economic development of Afghanistan.

ND: Will the Afghans be able to sustain or even expand the skills we taught them if NATO leaves?

MS: If you are referring to military skills, then yes, this is the most important and primary area of skill that NATO could and should have concentrated on providing since 2002.  Unfortunately, training of the Afghan National Army and Police did not get real attention by NATO until 2010.  The defense and policing capacity of the Afghan government still has many years of training and provisioning required.   There is effectively no Afghan air force which is essential – particularly in such a rugged mountainous terrain.

ND: In my research, it seems that the majority of improvements have been in women’s rights.  What else has improved since America began assisting the people of Afghanistan?

MS: The international community has supported Afghan social and economic development extensively since 2002.  Japan and India are among the largest donors.  India has provided Afghanistan with its main highway, the capital city with electricity and is now building the parliament – among many other initiatives.  The Japanese and many other northern European countries have supported infrastructure, education and rural development.  Rural development is the most important in Afghanistan since it is still primarily a society dependent on subsistence agriculture.  The most important and successful development work has been conducted by the Afghan government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) – a nationwide, grassroots, community and economic development program.  Since 2001 the US government has increased the amount of foreign aid controlled and implemented by the US military from 3% to 28%.  This has led to an ineffective program that implements the majority of our aid work through military units called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)  (You can see a brief introductory film that I made comparing the PRTs and NSP on the CSFilm website).

ND: Do you think it is necessary to continue our efforts in Afghanistan? image with nick

MS: I was against a military approach to helping Afghanistan in 2001 and subsequently to our dominantly militarized approach over the last decade.  But now that the international community has taken a leading military role in the stabilization/destabilization of the country over the last 10 years, it has a moral obligation not to abandon the country.  In 2002 the UN had a peace and economic stabilization plan ready to implement but the US said it was going to stay and do the job.  What Afghans need is not a 5 or 10 year plan, dominated by a few self-interested powers, but an international plan that will commit to regional and national stabilization for decades to come.  As in Central Africa and other regions destabilized by hundreds of years of colonialism, Central Asia, with Afghanistan lost in the middle, needs long term stabilization and development assistance.

ND: In your opinion, what is the majority of the Afghans’ feelings about U.S. involvement/assistance in Afghanistan?

MS: Most Afghans are very thankful for the international community’s assistance.  Their biggest concern is whether they will be abandoned by the international community as they were in the 80s – which lead to the devastating civil war.   Most Afghans appreciate NATO’s military role in Afghanistan – primarily eager to see Pakistan’s role diminished and the insurgent extremists such as the Taliban weakened.  They are dismayed however by how much money NATO has spent and how strong the insurgents still are.  Afghans are easily swayed by conspiracy theories and many believe that the Americans are too strong to have not easily defeated the insurgents and therefore must secretly be supporting them and the Pakistanis.

ND: Similarly, do you believe the majority of the Afghan citizens favor a democratic government?

MS: Yes, most Afghans support notions of democracy and are eager for transparency and equitable justice – but democracy is defined differently by all people.  For the majority of Afghans, Islam is dominant in their lives, and they cannot conceive of anything, including democracy, playing a more determinant role than God and Islam.  Therefore, many Afghans do not look to a western concept of secular democratic government as being appropriate for their social, judicial or economic well-being.

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Why do African media get Africa wrong?

Most African media only broadcast to home viewers and use wire services for their broader audience.
Last updated: 08 Jan 2014 11:32

Patrick Gathara is a strategic communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi.

Due to shrinking budgets, journalists ‘parachute’ in for a few days to cover crisis spots [Reuters]
Nanjala Nabola recently caused a bit of a stir with her Al Jazeera article asking, “Why do Western media get Africa wrong?” Reading through the piece, which was both interesting and informative, I couldn’t help but wonder: Just who does get Africa right? Is there even such a thing as getting Africa right?

From the outset, let me state that I agree with many of Nanjala’s criticisms of media coverage of events on the continent. As she says, much of it is devoid of nuance and context and seem oblivious to what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as the “danger of a single story” – the reductio ad absurdum of the tale of a continent of over a billion people and 54 countries, their existence, history and stories compressed into one simple, superficial, easily regurgitated cliche: “The hopeless continent.” “Africa rising.” “Magical Africa.”

However, it is not just Western media (itself a rather obtuse concept) that are guilty of reporting in this manner. African media commit many of the same sins though, given the fact that most only broadcast to discrete home audiences, it is easy for them to escape censure. While Africans in almost every country on the continent have the opportunity to be regularly appalled by their portrayal on CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC, it is rare that Kenyans will flip the channel to check what Nigerian journalists are reporting about them.

This is because few African media houses are actually trying to cover the continent for the continent. Many have their hands full reporting (or not reporting) news at home and do not think of Africa so much as a story that needs to be covered, but as part of the rest of the world and take their cue on reporting it from the Western outlets. As South African photojournalist and film-maker Greg Marinovich notes, “Most African media stories on Africa are from international wires.” Few have bureaus or send reporters outside their home countries, choosing to rely on the same Western reporters they delight in bashing.

Look at South Sudan, CAR, Congo or even Somalia, for instance. Most media on the continent remain supremely oblivious to the happenings there. Even in neighbouring nations such as Kenya, which has paid a huge price for Somalia’s instability, media only seem able to regurgitate the Western tropes about fighting terror and Islamic extremists. Few journalists bother to understand the genesis of the two-decade long anarchy or to explain the reasons and wisdom of Kenya’s intervention. In October 2011, many were busy beating the patriotic drum of war and most have since lost interest in what Kenyan troops are doing across the border.

Nanjala also points out that in most Western reporting of Africa, “The Rest is necessarily set up in opposition to the West,” resulting in coverage where “issues or situations are rarely, if ever, analysed for their intrinsic impact or worth. Events or situations are analysed as what the West is not.” But that, too, cuts both ways. Sometimes, African media will mirror this and set up the Rest in opposition to the perceptions of the Western press.

Another example from Kenya: As the elections last year approached, the country was inundated by Western journalists, many undoubtedly there in anticipation of a repeat of the 2007/8 post-election bloodshed. Most Kenyan media-folk were appalled, having themselves determined to practice something called peace journalism. In any case, their resultant, overly uncritical reporting of the election seemed at least partly motivated by the desire to prove to their Western counterparts that Kenya was not another African basket case.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.

Shrinking budgets

To be fair, when gauging their performance, one has to also consider the environment in which African media operate. Many operate under severe government restrictions, with limited resources. Shrinking budgets are, however, a worldwide phenomena. Much has been made about the phenomenon of journalists parachuting (not literally) to crisis spots for a few days and filing reports with neither context nor understanding. However, as Suzanne Franks noted nearly a decade ago:

“An important gap in the way that Africa is reported is not just the disappearance of regular correspondents, but also of longer more considered television documentaries.As current affairs coverage has declined, the only television outlet left for factual programming about Africa is on the news. So the kind of explanations and background context that would once have been contained in a thirty or forty minute programme, if they happen at all, now have to be compressed into a two or three minute package. It also means that the nature of what is covered will be dictated by news priorities. TV news, which is how most people find out about the world, is an event driven operation. Contemporary news reporting in Africa is invariably of the ‘fire fighting’ tendency. In the absence of resident correspondents, a highly professional reporter – well attuned to the needs and expectations of the various outlets- is flown in when disaster occurs and expected to deliver something within days if not hours.”

Remember that African news outlets are dependent on Western-based international wires to tell Africa’s story. Also recall that they take their cue on what their audiences need to hear from Western news outlets. That means they are in no position to pick up the slack. In fact, they are part of the problem, perpetuating and disseminating as they do Western perspectives, biases and stereotypes. (Let me hasten to add that by no means are all Western journalists or all journalists working for Western-based outlets guilty of this.)

Perhaps the answer lies in an approach that does away with the idea of covering Africa. Since, like Chimamanda, most people on the continent do not primarily identify themselves as Africans except in opposition to those who aren’t. As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere observed, “Africans all over the continent, without a word being spoken either from one individual to another, or from one country to another, looked at the European, looked at one another, and knew that in relation to the European they were one.”

To cover Africa is necessarily to step outside of it, to see it in relation to “the European”. Such a perspective is hardly going to reflect how Africans see themselves. It is not an invalid perspective though. Just, again to borrow from Chimamanda, an incomplete one.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.

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Bringing the Teaching Home – Doc Bootcamp Course at MassArt, Boston

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Michael Sheridan working with students in Afghanistan

Michael Sheridan will teach the Documentary Bootcamp course at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.  The course is a one week intensive, January 13-17, 2014, covering  the full production experience in fast motion: project definition, project planning, camera, editing, and presentation. It’s open to the public and to 10 students  of all levels of experience.  To learn more please go to MassArt’s registration page.

Students are welcome to use their own digital video camcorder during the course if it accepts an external microphone, allows for audio monitoring and has manual focus and exposure controls.

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Changing of the Guard

Another moment in life of mixed emotions:  We are very sorry to see Ali Pinschmidt, Program Coordinator, moving on after two and a half years at CSFilm, and very happy that Kate Bamberg has agreed to join us.

Ali and Rakan

Ali presenting the work of CSFilm

Ali started when the operation was still working out of my living room.  She brought a unique knowledge of participatory filmmaking and community development. During her time at CSFilm, she lead the outreach and distribution work of the Afghan-made Fruit of Our Labor films, including the organizing of an impressive Congressional briefing in DC.  More recently she has taken primary responsibility for reaching out to potential partners for our intended training and production work with new immigrants and refugees in the Boston area.  Each of these efforts has been accomplished with great energy and spirit and within the constraints of a very young and underfunded organization.  To grow CSFilm, Ali has written grant applications, donor appeals, newsletters and developed the vast amount of administrative infrastructure that a young organization depends on.  As is Ali’s nature, during our farewell meeting and dinner with advisers Laura Roper and Anuradha Desai, Ali brought a detailed two page analysis of organizational strengths and weaknesses that will continue to inform our next steps even in her absence.  I’m sure that all of you who have met or communicated with Ali over the last years join me in thanking her for her work and wishing her the very best in her new filmmaking, teaching and organizing ventures.

kate-bio-picture

Kate during her semester abroad in England

Another area that Ali managed astutely was our need for interns.  Interns are the life blood of the organization and one intern that worked very hard for us last year was Kate Bamberg.   If I remember correctly, the intern interview with Kate took place via skype, with me in Afghanistan, Kate on a semester abroad in London and Ali holding down the fort in Boston.  Kate has now finished her dual degree in Film Studies and International Development, and we are thrilled that she was available to join the team.   It is a great help that she already knows so much about the organization and she brings a dedication to the cause, with a particular interest in indigenous voices. Welcome aboard Kate! Read more about Kate on our staff page.

Michael Sheridan, Director

 

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“The Fruit of Our Labor Films” Available for Online Screening on Daazo.com! – 1 Month Only

daazoWe are very excited to announce that, beginning October 23, 2013, all ten shorts from The Fruit of Our Labor will be featured on Daazo.com – The European Short Film Centre. For one month, all of the films will be available to watch, comment on, or “like” through Daazo’s website.

CSF_DVD_image_small

Daazo.com is a short film sharing site supported by the MEDIA Programme of the EU that hosts several thousand contemporary shorts. Alongside these recent films, Daazo presents old classics that are not available elsewhere on the Internet.  Daazo creates opportunities for cinephiles to watch regular film premieres, follow or take part in film competitions, and find out about short film news and updates.

A scene from Hands of Health.

CSFilm is enthusiastic about Daazo’s mission and hopes our partnership will further open viewers’ eyes to the power of local perspectives in film.

The documentary shorts show aspects of life in Afghanistan that are not often covered in the Western media: Water Ways chronicles one village’s struggle to obtain clean drinking water.

Hands of Health follows a village’s Women’s

A scene from Water Ways.Council and their efforts to build a maternity center. All of the shorts were developed and directed by Afghan filmmakers during a filmmaking training conducted by Community Supported Film.

Visit Daazo.com to view the shorts from The Fruit of Our Labor.

 

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s Next Generation Mobilizes

By Viola Gienger

 

Afghanistan

The pivotal presidential elections in Afghanistan next April will rest more than ever before on a new generation, as the proportion of the country’s population under the age of 25 reaches 68 percent.

To gauge the potential influence of youth on the elections as well as their attitudes and their degree of political activism, USIP has commissioned two studies that will interview more than 270 young leaders across the most populous provinces.

“The old guard, which has prevented reform, is not ready to relinquish power, and forward-looking youth groups don’t seem to be ready to challenge them,” said Scott Smith, USIP’s deputy director of Afghanistan programs. “The key questions for this election, and therefore for the future of Afghanistan, is whether the ballot box will matter, and if it does, whether the youth vote will be decisive.”

Young Afghan leaders have conducted human rights education in their communities, tracked the national budget to hold elected leaders to account, worked in newly established government ministries, and run for parliament. Take, for example, 29-year-old Naheed Farid, the youngest member of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, who is considered an outspoken supporter of young Afghans becoming more involved in the political processes.

At the same time, some have been frustrated by the concentration of power in the hands of older, established leaders both at home and abroad who often take what the youth see as outmoded, intransigent positions that keep Afghanistan mired in the past.

“Afghanistan has transformed, and both our leaders at home as well as our allies in the U.S. or elsewhere need to start adopting a new set of optics towards the country,” said Haseeb Humayoon, the founding partner and director of QARA Consulting Inc., the first Afghan-owned public relations and political risk consulting firm. Humayoon, who spoke at a June 28 panel discussion at USIP on youth in Afghanistan, previously worked at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, conducting research and briefing members of Congress.

Humayoon is a council member for Afghanistan 1400, a civil-political movement founded in December that aims to establish a political platform for the country’s new generation. Another leading youth-established policy group in Afghanistan is Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3), said Rachel Reid, director of the Regional Policy Initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, who moderated the panel.

 

Click HERE to read more from the United States Institute of Peace.

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Afghanistan Photo Gallery

Afghanistan: Documentary Filmmaking Training, 2010

Click here to learn more about the Afghanistan documentary training process.

Afghanistan: National Solidarity Program Documentary Filmmaking Training, 2012
Click here to learn more about the NSP Documentary Training.

Afghanistan: Travel

Afghanistan: Landscapes

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Afghanistan Landscapes

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Afghanistan: Lost In Time: Groovy Afghanistan

afghanistan

A cautionary tale of a vibrant and thriving culture lost in time, these photographs collected on a community Facebook page in Afghanistan are likely to leave you in disbelief. The country we’re so often shown today is comparable to a broken medieval society, but not so long ago, the barren landscape was dotted with stylish buildings, women wore pencil skirts and teenagers shopped at record stores.

As you browse the photos that capture progress, hope and that rock’n’roll spirit in the air, keep in mind the implications of what happened to this culture in just a few decades.

Above: Afghan women in the 1940s

Afghanistan

Typical Kabuli Fashion in the 60′s- 70′s

Mohammad Qayoumi grew up in Kabul during the 60s and 70s and many of his photographs are featured on the Facebook page’s collection. This is the Afghanistan he remembers:

A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.

This was Afghanistan…

Afghanistan

Afghanistan

 

 

To read more, click here!

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Media, Afghanistan: Do Not Trust my Silence

Watch this short documentary film about street harassment in Afghanistan by Sahar Fetrat!

“When I first joined the Afghan Voice’s media training, I had the vision of making a documentary about street harassment. This documentary for me is more than just a 10-minute film, there is a lot in it. There is a big pain in it that all women, especially Afghan women, can feel. This documentary shows only a little of what we see, feel and experience every day.” -Sahar Fetrat

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Media, Afghanistan: Half Value Life

Check out this award-winning, Afghanistan-made full length documentary film produced by Alka Sadat!

 

Synopsis:
A Girl listening to the radio from home, a woman walking at her workplace. The camera follows their steps in parallel, focuses on the mirror they look at, putting lipstick on. Inside the court mistreated women are telling their stories. On television, the report of a terrorist attack, outside, in the city. Mrya Basher is the first woman in Afghanistan to have become a senior provincial investigator officer, a high-responsibility position woman are often considered incapable to carry. By actively supporting mistreated young women she puts her life in serious danger.

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Media, Development: Launching “A Burmese Journey”

GlobalPost Special Reports, Open Hands Initiative and GroundTruth are teaming up to bring you along on “A Burmese Journey.”

Five teams of top, young journalists set out from Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon to better understand how the country is changing under a reform-minded government. Travel along with these 20 reporters — 11 Burmese and 9 American — as they journey the ancient Burma Road, through the country’s capitals past and present, down the Irrawaddy Delta, onto Inle Lake and across Yangon itself at a critical time in the country’s history.

Read more about “A Burmese Journey” on GlobalPost Special Reports HERE.

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Media: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

In its latest effort to push the boundaries of massive online training in journalism, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has brought together five experts, including practitioners from The New York Times, ProPublica, NPR and the Houston Chronicle, to teach the Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) in English, “Data-Driven Journalism: The Basics.” Click here to register!

Read more about the program HERE.

 

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Media: Egypt’s Political Revolution, Explained by Young Ali Ahmed

I don’t know what you were doing in middle school, but reading newspapers and using words like “theocracy” probably weren’t among your normal activities.

But for Ali Ahmed, a young Egyptian recently interviewed by El Wady News, grasping his country’s ongoing revolution and its political intricacies is as elementary as a spelling lesson.

This video is making the Internet rounds. …it’s being applauded as a great introductory primer on Egyptian politics.

To read more from this article by takepart.com, click HERE.

 

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A Filmmaker’s Critique of The Fruit of our Labour

Check out this insightful article originally published in REORIENT Magazine—a publication that covers Middle Eastern arts and culture in this changing world. Author Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz gives a fresh perspective into the lives of Afghans when she revisits ‘The Fruit of our Labor‘ and ‘Death to the Camera.‘ Bazaz emphasizes varying relationships to the camera, in the midst of race, gender and class differences that cause isolation and tension amongst Afghan locals.

“This is a new way of seeing Afghanistan – one in which the camera’s gaze does not simply reinforce power inequities, but acts as a tool through which power and politics can be debated. And recreated.”

A NEW SERIES OF SHORT DOCUMENTARIES BY EMERGING AFGHAN FILMMAKERS

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Still from ‘The Road Above’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It starts, as many great films do, with a black screen; then, a flicker. Through snatches of light, a woman is revealed, a headscarf tied at her neck, her body leaning over a table to light a kerosene lantern. Just as light escapes the match, The Road Above emits in small and elegant portions the life of Mona, the film’s protagonist; Mona, who, through an involuntary smile tells us about the husband she’s lost to heroin, the financial straits her family struggles against, and her hopes for a stable life. Simply and softly, through intentional, cinematic language, we spend time with Mona and her enduring mother.

Their country is one we’ve seen countless times over in news reports – a dust-strewn land where women seem to bend from the onerous weight of the chador (not, of course, the onerous weight of infrastructural instability brought on by decades of invasion and war), and where wisened faces peer into cameras, prayer beads moving steadily through their fingers; a country embedded among the terms ‘war-torn’, ‘conflict’, ‘Taliban’, ‘terrorist’, ‘wounded’, ‘dead’.

This time, though, in The Road Above and the other nine short documentaries comprising the Fruit of Our Labourcollection, we see Afghanistan through more nuanced eyes, in images that may strike as familiar to some Iranians and unfamiliar to most Americans. In this Afghanistan, mothers and daughters eat breakfast together. They sit cross-legged on hand-woven rugs, tear at lavash or taftoon bread, and sip from tea in tall glass mugs. They speak about the day to come – a day in which even here, in a place we are told not to expect the stirrings of life, trips to the seamstress will be made; bazaars will hum with a thousand brilliant colours; fruit vendors will mix smoothies to lure new customers; cosmetologists will line the almond eyes of young beauties, and culture, quite simply, will continue to function amidst the turmoil.

The films in The Fruit of Our Labour were produced during a five-week intensive documentary training session held in Kabul, designed and conducted by Community Supported Film, a Boston-based nonprofit training local storytellers in the documentary format. ‘The way we learn about other people’s worlds is really through our own eyes’, explains Michael Sheridan, CSFilm’s founder. ‘It became an interest of mine to figure out how to implement a program … to create compelling stories that could be used locally and internationally to help people … understand what’s going on’.

TOFL

Still from ‘The Road Above’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through a partnership with the Killid Media Group, CSFilm received 80 applications for its inaugural training programme. From that pool, an ethnically diverse group of ten storytellers were selected to work together for up to ten hours a day, six days a week for five weeks, to learn the skills required to make character-driven, scene-based documentaries. The filmmakers were chosen after a rigorous application process that gauged their storytelling fluencies, their commitment to social and economic development, and their plans for employing their training towards nurturing their professional growth, in addition to forgoing traditional ethnic and gender divisions.

This commitment to diversity is crucial in a nation wherein so many different ethnic groups reside. In a recent online conversation, Jamal Aram, a translator and project coordinator for the CSFilm programme noted that one of the issues Afghanistan faces is the fact that ethnic groups are often isolated from one another, and as such, are not able to overcome historical divisions. ‘I’ve always thought,’ says Jamal, ‘there should be something, some common ground that [could bring] different ethnicities … together [to] sit around a table and really start discussing their feelings and what they think of all these situations’.

We see exactly this kind of cross-cultural conversation taking place in Death to the Camera, directed by Sayed Qasem Hossaini. Like Iranian New Wave films, Death to the Camera relies on a deceptive simplicity to broach complex topics, and explores the relationship between the artifice of filmmaking and the truth of human experience. The film takes place during the span of a day on a worksite, where a group of female day labourers scoop dirt and rocks into small bags that they then gather into wheelbarrows and push off-screen. It is the women’s last day working under their contract. Throughout the day, their anxieties about finding the next job underline every conversation. They snap at one another. They complain. They work slowly, their steps dragging them reluctantly to the completion of this last day of pay. Despite these challenges, the women are neither depicted as victims, nor as subjects of the film; they are instead active agents whose conversations are often directed expressly towards the camera. ‘I wish your filming could help us get some aid’, says one woman. Later, another asks her co-workers: ‘Have you told all your problems to the camera? Can it leave now?’

death to the camera

Still from ‘Death to the Camera’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than just speaking to, and being aware of the camera, the women are actively negotiating their personal and cultural relationships to it. While in the US the camera tends to be trusted as a communication medium, many cultures are fiercely protective of privacy, and thus the documentary ‘eye’ can feel invasive and insidious. Social taboos, by discouraging people from revealing too much of their private lives or selves, preserve the camera’s status as a vehicle for delivering entertainment rather than truth.

In Death to the Camera, in factone of the women on the site is accused by her manager of making herself too ‘available’ to the camera and sullying her reputation. Sitting among her female coworkers, working steadily, she eyes the manager, stands up, and walks  away to confront him. Harkening the style of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, we hear the woman arguing with her manager off-screen, while we watch her co-workers on-screen, scooping dirt one moment, and attempting to turn their heads inconspicuously towards the tense conversation the next.

When the accused woman returns to her coworkers, she reiterates her frustration with her manager’s accusations. A sensitive coworker, not wanting to make the crew feel guilty for their presence, whispers: ‘Don’t say that. [The cameraman] will mind’. ‘No he won’t,’ the woman responds, ‘he knows the issues very well … he’s a filmmaker. He’s not after prostitutes and bad things’. In this conversation, we see the two women developing their own unique relationships to the camera. One sees the camera as a valued guest, and another sees it as an ally, another medium through which she can prove her case. In so doing, they carve a new space for documentary filmmaking in a society that has a relatively recent history with the form.

Death to the Camera

Still from ‘Death to the Camera’

For the camera’s part, it does not shy away from these ‘negotiations’. It does not stop rolling, nor does it ask the women to stop referring to the camera. It allows itself to be integrated and even implicated. When the women start to discuss the inequities they face as day labourers, the conversation turns towards ethnic differences and the trouble Hazara women have in getting hired. The conversation becomes heated. We don’t see the conversation in full, but we do see that a Hazara woman has become especially affected by recalling the situation she faces. Immediately thereafter, the camera crew retreats. It’s unclear whether they were asked to leave by the women, or whether the conversation was simply becoming too tense; nonetheless, the camera’s gaze suddenly spins to the ground and haphazardly captures the feet of the crew leaving the scene.

This is more than a retreat. It is a deliberate turning of the gaze away from the women, and onto the crew. The arbitrary and contested territory between the photographer and the photographed dissolves, as does the vast expanse between those who study conflict and those who live it. The crew becomes another extension of the inter-ethnic conflict. Exasperated, they throw down their gear, and ask themselves how this conversation started in the first place. They ferociously squirt compressed air into the camera’s lens – almost as if trying to dust it for fingerprints – and debate their choices. Though they experience the conflict in different ways than some of the women themselves, they do not position themselves as objective documenters apart from the eruption, but as fellow country-persons affected by it – involved, somehow, in this ‘ecosystem’.  As the boom operator suggests, they are even in some ways complicit. ‘Actually, you started the ethnic conflict discussion’, he remarks.

This is a new way of seeing Afghanistan – one in which the camera’s gaze does not simply reinforce power inequities, but acts as a tool through which power and politics can be debated. And recreated. In the eyes and likeness of the labouring men and women who themselves are too often the terrain upon which power is played out.

Death to the Camera – Trailer from Michael Sheridan on Vimeo.

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Afghanistan: Education in Afghanistan – from the local perspective

By Shelly Kittleson, IPS News Service

Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

KABUL, Jun 26 2013 (IPS) – Despite impressive advancements in enrolment rates, media reports of gas attacks on girls’ schools, shoddy books, and a lack of classroom facilities continue to mar the reputation of the education system in Afghanistan. Many locals feel that landmark developments such as the enrolment of roughly eight million children – 37 percent of whom are girls – compared to the 900,000 exclusively male students enroled under the Taliban go largely unreported. Other, less obvious changes, such as the gradual removal of references to war and violence from school textbooks, have also escaped media attention, said former human rights commissioner Nader Nadery. Nadery, current chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation, told IPS that between 1996 and 2001, boys-only schools functioning under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan studied material that actively promoted violence. In mathematics classes, for example, he said word problems included such scenarios as: “If you shoot a gun and the bullet travels at X speed towards a soldier standing 500 metres away, how long does it take to kill him?” According to Nadery, tireless work by human rights bodies led to a revision of these texts between 2006 and 2007 to include, among other things, gender-sensitive references that replaced such passages as: “The boy was playing football while the girl was carrying water and washing dishes.” Education Minister Spokesman Amanullah Eman told IPS that youth now learn about hitherto taboo subjects like tolerance and the dangers and diseases associated with drug-use. English and computer skills are also taught in government–funded religious schools, which Eman says about two percent of children attend, including some 15,000 girls. And whereas “religious instruction was given in Arabic under the previous regime, we have now translated all the books into the two national languages: Dari and Pashto,” he added. The past few years have also seen rapid growth in the number of private institutes of both basic and higher education. One of the best known is the Kardan Institute of Higher Education, which was founded in 2003 by four Afghans in “a single room when there were no other private institutions in the country,” said Hamid Saboory, a legal expert and consultant to the university. This alternative to traditional institutions like Kabul University offered short courses in finance, management and business administration and is now one of the most highly respected of the “over 70 private institutions registered with the ministry,” he told IPS. In rural areas, however, educational facilities and services can be difficult if not impossible to access. Some remote areas rely on lectures transmitted through TV to compensate for the lack of qualified vocational trainers, Nadery said. Meanwhile, in the northeastern province of Kapisa, at Al-Biruni University, a number of girls in the law faculty complained to IPS of frequent power outages, and going days without running water in the dormitories. Still, the presence of so many young women in the law faculty, hailing from such far-flung provinces as Farah in the west to Jowjzan in the north and in many cases coming with the blessings of their fathers, is an encouraging sign of slow but sure change. Payvand Seyedali, former executive director of Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE), echoed this observation, but stressed the need to change a law that bans anyone who is married from enroling in the public school system. “This has serious implications,” she pointed out, “for girls who are married at 13,14, 15…who are essentially (forced) to drop out of school.” However, AAE schools that cater specifically to this population found that many husbands, brothers and fathers were often the ones encouraging their female relatives to stay in school, “sometimes even making that a condition of the marriage,” she told IPS. A researcher on ethnic bias in Afghan textbooks who asked not to be named sounded a word of caution about the complexities of creating an “inclusive” education system in a country of 35.2 million people, of whom 42 percent arethought to be Pashtun, 27 percent Tajik, nine percent Uzbek and nine percent Hazara. He found that 100 percent of the references to people, groups or dynasties in eighth-grade textbooks are all Pashtun, a pattern that is repeated in other grades as well. Other inconsistencies in the curriculum include gaping holes in national history. For instance, the last 40 years of the country’s history were left out of high school social science textbooks, a decision supposedly motivated by the desire to “promote national unity”, according to the government. Asked about this move, Technical Education and Vocational Training (TVET) Deputy Minister Mohammad Asif Nang said that all parties to the bloodiest part of Afghan history could be impacted by mention of the 32 years of war. “People from the Communist regime, from the Taliban regime, from the Mujahedeen” are still alive, and their children could end up fighting one another, he said. The deputy minister stressed, “Every day we build five schools. Every day we have activities for teachers (to gain more skills).” He lambasted an overly critical media that jumps on flaws in the system and exaggerates their impact. What the country needs during this phase of state-building, he said, is more support, correction of mistakes and adjustments to and reform of the system, a process that risks being derailed by negative media.

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Afghan Media Brace for Financial Drought

By Shelly Kittleson, IPS New Agency

The Hasht-e Sobh newspaper is now offering cheap SMS news-alerts to over 15,000 subscribers across Afghanistan. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

KABUL, May 31 2013 (IPS) – As Afghanistan prepares for the 2014 withdrawal of foreign forces that have occupied this country for over a decade, investors are already beginning to bid a hasty retreat amid rumours that “chaos” and civil war will replace NATO’s boots on the ground late next year.

Among those most fearful of this approaching financial drought are journalists and media organisations who have long relied on international support to stay afloat.

Najiba Ayubi, director of the independent Afghan media group known as The Killid Group (TKG), described the last 10 years as the “golden decade for Afghan media”, which saw the establishment of 175 FM radio stations, 75 television stations and hundreds of print publications that have taken up the cudgels on everything from rural girls’ right to education to the public’s right to information.

The radio stations in particular have been very effective in developing a strong civil society and there is “a serious danger of losing all that if funding dries up,” Ayubi told IPS.

But fear breeds innovation, and as the drawdown approaches, media practitioners are finding creative solutions to the post-NATO quandary, including the creation of a new journalists’ federation, efforts to build a culture of investigative journalism and the drafting of a “code of conduct” for the press.

Media practitioners close ranks

One of the first responses to the threat of a funding shortage has been a heightened sense of solidarity in times of distress.

When the independent daily Hasht-e Sobh decided to take the Afghan ministry of mines to task in a special edition in late March for “irregular tender procedures” and the squandering of resources on so-called advisors who were paid as much as 107,000 dollars per month, the paper’s editor-in-chief Parwiz Kawa was promptly summoned to the attorney general’s office.

This raised fears that he might be fated to a similar end as the many Afghan journalists who have been killed on the job in the last decade, including two in the past few weeks.

But local media organisations just as promptly issued statements denouncing the violation of the right to free speech. Hasht-e Sobh, winner of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2012 Press Freedom Award, says the matter is currently on hold.

This spontaneous reaction came partly in response to the paper’s daily struggle for survival: while in 2011 it was able to employ some 125 staff across the country, its bureau has since dwindled to 70, axing crucial correspondents in the eastern city of Jalalabad and the southern Kandahar province.

“We had to let them go when donors cut the funding,” Kawa told IPS, adding that 50 percent of Hasht-e Sobh’s budget comes from international donors, with less than 30 percent coming in from advertising, sales and subscriptions.

The group is now scrambling to secure loans from supporters and began offering a low-cost SMS news alert service through an agreement with telecommunications provider Etisalat two months ago.

The service has already attracted 15,000 subscribers and hopes to eventually reach at least 100,000 of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million inhabitants, according to Kawa.

Ayubi is similarly concerned about the future of TKG, which achieved full self-sufficiency in 2005 but took a hit after the announcement of the 2014 military pullout. With advertisers’ pockets growing shallower, Killid has once again resorted to seeking grants in order to maintain its operations.

According to Ayubi, it is particularly important for media organisations to remain functional in the lead up to the April 2014 presidential elections so that the population can make informed decisions.

Nader Nadery, former human rights commissioner of Afghanistan and current executive chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation, highlighted the crucial role the media plays in nurturing a vital society, pointing out that news sources have become much more critical of the government’s failure to deliver on its promises.

This initially caused the government to dig in its heels and adamantly refuse to release even the most innocuous information on the grounds that it is classified and that releasing it would pose a “national security risk.”

But after extensive lobbying by media and civil society groups, the government published a draft Access to Information law earlier this year.

Though the Centre for Law and Democracy has criticised the draft on a number of points – such as the restricting of access to “information that serves a right or brings ease to performing of the relevant duties’’ – Nadery believes the government’s overture to civil society represents an “important step forward” for press freedom and the right to information.

With these newly won rights come responsibilities, Afghan National Journalists’ Union (ANJU) Chief Fahim Dashti noted, drawing attention to the recent collaboration between more than 30 media organisations over a seven-month period that resulted in a draft Code of Practice, designed to ensure media quality.

The code calls for journalists to pay greater attention to the psychological and social impact of news reports, especially those covering delicate issues like child abuse and rape, and aims to “sensitise” the public by, for example, refraining from using the word “criminal” for those not yet convicted of crimes. Dashti believes this will also strengthen the public’s trust in media outlets.

Though his own widely respected publication ‘Kabul Weekly’ folded in 2011 due to financial difficulties, Dashti is hopeful about the overall future of journalism.

Meanwhile, the newly established Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee has embarked on efforts to alleviate some of the risks journalists incur in their work, offering first aid training, medical treatment, and legal advice. A 24-hour hotline offers a lifeline to distressed journalists by connecting media practitioners with a vast network of civil society activists, as well as local and international media.

In a country where the literacy rate is estimated to be hovering close to 28 percent, though, print publications will find it the hardest to survive.

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