Issues & Analysis
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Aid and Afghanistan’s Economy

Global development podcasts 

What is there to show for the $57bn spent on aid in Afghanistan over the past decade, and what lies ahead for the country’s economy and people? Our panel explores the key issues: Aid and Afghanistan’s Economy

Produced by The Guardian Newspaper
Presented by Madeleine Bunting, produced by Lucy Lamble and researched by Claire Provost
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 October 2011 10.06 EDT

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“Death to the Camera” wins Best Documentary award and meets resistance

Death to the Camera,” produced during CSFilm’s training and included in The Fruit of Our Labor collection, wins Best Documentary Award at the 1st KABUL HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL, Kabul, Afghanistan.


Congratulations to director Qasem Husseini, editor Hamed Alizadeh, sound person Mona Haidari and translator and assistant conceptualizer Jamal Aram Amiry.  This acknowledgment reaffirms Community Supported Film’s commitment to offering trainings in documentary filmmaking and to encouragimg new filmmakers to produce films that are daring in structure and powerful in story. As reported in The Hindu Arts Magazine, the film was well received in Kabul and met with protest in Mazar-e-sharif:

In Mazar-e-sharif  …  “The Islamic Sharia Department disrupted the screenings of ‘Paper Boats’ and ‘Death to Camera’ — they pulled down the banners of the festival, shouted slogans and disrupted the screenings,” according to Malek Shafi, the Festival Director. “But we will have this festival every year as we hope that by running it in a territory of war and tragedy we will be able to make the cultural identity of Afghanistan independent from political and militarism aspects”, Shaffi said.

Great respect goes out to Shaffi and the whole AHRFF team who stood their ground and produced this important festival and public service.

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NPR’s “Here and Now” features CSFilm

NPR’s Robin Young interviews Community Supported Film director Michael Sheridan on Here and Now.  The show aired on Friday October 7th, the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan.  Listen to the segment here.

Excerpt: “Filmmaker Michael Sheridan 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.”  Robin Young, Host of NPR’s Here and Now



 

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EA WorldView post analyzes Afghan films’ unique perspective

EA WorldView

 

 

Afghanistan Special: Presenting “The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film”
Saturday, October 1, 2011 | Author John Horne in EA WorldView: Afghanistan-Pakistan

The Fruit of our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film is a series of short documentaries offering a corrective to Western-centric accounts of life in Afghanistan. Focusing on issues of social and economic development, as documented and told by Afghans themselves, the films work to puncture typical mainstream perspectives centered on conflict, corruption and humanitarian relief. As such, they present intimate glimpses into routine struggles of employment, education and health and of accomplishments and failings at the level of community and infrastructure.

The ten documentaries, produced by Michael Sheridan for Community Supported Film, are available to watch online until 7 October, the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan. They are also currently being screened in cities across America and have just been released on DVD. American audiences to date, observes Sheridan, have been “dumbstruck” by seeing a side of Afghanistan — the everyday life, difficulties and opinions of its citizens — routinely hidden in the view of the mainstream media. Indeed, for some, the films are simply unbelievable, given how removed they are from the national portrait painted by CNN, MSNBC and FOX… Read More

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Arlington Film Festival Screening with Q&A. – October 7th

The Festival’s mission is to promote an increased appreciation for all cultures by showcasing the real lives of people all over the globe through independent film and to nurture the next generation of talented filmmakers within our community.

Screening five films from the collection The Fruit of Our Labor followed by Q&A
October 7th, 2011, 7 pm,
Regent Theater, 7 Medford Street, Arlington, MA
More info: http://www.aiffest.org/

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Teaching Video Intensive at Maine Media Workshops

On the road to the Maine Media Workshops to teach a one week intensive in video production and storytelling.  They call it Video Bootcamp.  After my years in Afghanistan, and with tongue-in-cheek, I thought I’d change the name to Video Hoedown – same intensity with slightly different orientation in shoe ware and style.

Check out this unique learning center: Maine Media

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Last week to see Afghan made films, hear Afghan voices, experience Afghan concerns – 10 years after the invasion, October 7th

Only one more week – through the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan on October 7th –  to watch online the full versions of 10 unique Afghan made films. These films provide an unseen view, beyond the battlefront coverage provided by western media, of the daily realities facing Afghans. Please share these films with your friends and colleagues to raise awareness of both the plight and capacity of Afghans and to bring a much needed local perspective to the debate about the immediate and long-term future of Afghanistan.

As I have written before [see Get the Troops Out?], no outsider can fix Afghanistan. However, outsiders can, and I think must, help Afghanistan extricate itself from its position as a pawn in the regional geopolitical conflict between countries such as Pakistan, India, [read analysis] Iran, Russia and China [read report]. [You can hear my comment on this subject on NPR’s OnPoint here: “What to do about Pakistan“]. Until this is accomplished, outsiders must – on humanitarian grounds – protect Afghans from a regional war that is being fought in their country and plays off of internal ethnic and economic tensions. To this end the international community, and the war protesters, should be thinking about more than getting troops out and bringing money home. Leaving the mess behind is not a humane solution.

Support peace for Afghans, and thereby regional stability and security at home. This requires slowly removing US-led offensive military forces, replacing them with a large international peacekeeping force (with a ‘right to kill’ mandate), increasing diplomatic pressure to resolve regional conflicts and funding long-term (30-50 year) Afghan led and implemented economic, social, political and security development programs [For further insight read the United States Institute of Peace’s: The Future of Afghanistan].

Watch these films, presented in full through October 7th, and meet the Afghans whose lives are on the line and whose peaceful future depends on a responsible and sustained engagement by the international community. Every week the filmmakers talk to me about their terrible fear of the international community abandoning them to another blood bath and humanitarian crisis. Don’t let our disappointment over the last ten year’s of mismanaged war and development aid cause us to call for action that 10 years from now we will regret and wish we had handled differently.

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On NPR “On Point” – Michael raises Afghan perspective on the role of Pakistan

Michael Sheridan called in to NPR’s On Point this morning, the subject: “What to do about Pakistan.”

Listen to Michael’s comment:  Call to NPR On Point.

Hear the full program here: WBUR-On Point

Having lived through a number of attacks instigated by the Pakistani’s, there is no question that until the international community forces the regional players, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, to the table, Afghanistan will continue to be the battle ground of their neighbor’s conflicts.  As I have written here before:  No outsider can fix Afghanistan. However, outsiders can, and I think must, help Afghanistan extricate itself from being a pawn in the regional geopolitical conflict between countries such as Pakistan, India, [read analysis] Iran, Russia and China [read report]. Until this is accomplished, outsiders must – on humanitarian grounds – protect Afghans from a regional war that is being fought in their country and that fuels and plays off of internal tensions. To this end the international community, and the war protesters, should have a plan beyond getting troops out and bringing the money home. Leaving the mess behind is not a humane solution.

Support an end of war for Afghans –  as well as for the international forces in Afghanistan. This requires reducing American led offensive military action, increasing pressure for resolution of regional conflicts and a quieter long-term (30-50 year) commitment to economic, social, political and security development in Afghanistan [For further insight read USIP’s: The Future of Afghanistan].

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Screening/Discussion with Kathy Kelly, October 1 – Ten Years After Conference –

Afghanistan: The US Must Change Course

Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee
Perspectives from her recent peace delegations to Afghanistan

Michael Sheirdan, Community Supported Film
Afghan perspective through screening of one film from The Fruit of Our Labor collection and discussion

Moderator: Cole Harrison, Mass. Peace Action & UJP Afghanistan/Pakistan Task Force

12 noon to 1pm
Suffolk University
Donahue Building, Room 207
41 Temple St.
Boston MA

http://justicewithpeace.org/ten-years-after-schedule

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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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Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan

Nearly 3 million people across Afghanistan are facing severe food shortages as a result of drought, Oxfam warned today (20 September 2011) as it called on donor governments to act now before the crisis becomes a catastrophe.

The drought is affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in the north, north-east and west of the country where 80 percent of the non-irrigated wheat crop, which people rely on for food and income, has been lost. Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.

The agency called on donors to heed the lessons from the current drought in the Horn of Africa, where delays cost lives and resulted in avoidable hardship, and ensure that enough funds are made available to meet immediate humanitarian needs for food and water.

Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, said:

“Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”

Pastures have been completely destroyed because of the drought, and the price of animal fodder in the market has quadruped so people are selling their livestock because they cannot feed them and need money to buy food for themselves. An estimated 50 percent of livestock in drought affected areas had already been sold; but the prices had fallen by 40 -50 percent. At the same time, food prices have skyrocketed putting basic food items out of reach of poor families – cereal prices in affected areas have increased by 80 percent.

There is also a lack of water in affected areas. Many water sources have dried up, so people and animals are being forced to share the same sources, leading to contamination and a heightened risk of water-borne disease.

The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance. Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.

“There have been reports of people trekking nine hours to get clean water and going into debt to ensure their children have food. Donor and aid agencies need to heed these warning signs and ensure that people have the support that they need” Charles added.

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“Ten Years and Counting” Interviews Michael Sheridan on the Afghan Project

Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War: An Interview with Michael SheridanTricia Khutoretsky. 

I know more about Afghanistan from talking to Michael Sheridan than I’ve known in the 10 years since we have been at war…

Read on

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CSFilm interviewed in The Independent film magazine

Afghan Life According to Afghan Filmmakers

With limited access to stories from the Afghan point of view, filmmaker Michael Sheridan set up a workshop to give Afghan people the tools to make their own documentaries.

The Independent, September 11th, 2011 | Erin Trahan

In the days approaching the 10th anniversary of September 11th, whose stories have you heard? Have they represented the full spectrum of experiences on that date and what has unfolded since? What was the language of their telling?
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9/11’s Release: Qasem Hossaini’s “Death to the Camera”

Leading up to 9/11, Community Supported Film is releasing one Afghan-made film per day from the collection The Fruit of Our Labor.   As we reflect on the impact of 9-11 and the October 7th US-led invasion of Afghanistan on our lives, Community Supported Film is providing an opportunity to also reflect on the situation from an Afghan perspective.

The Fruit of Our Labor  is a collection of intimate stories made by Afghans and about Afghans’ survival in their war-ridden country.  Each documentary short offers a personal and first-hand point of view rarely seen or heard in the US, even after 10 years of intense media coverage.  As a series, these films bring to life Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions – providing an insider perspective behind and beyond the battlefront.

Today’s Release: Death to the Camera,  Full Version, 20 min.

Direction and Camera by Sayed Qasem Hossaini
Editing by Hamed Alizada
Sound by Mona Haidari

A camera moves among woman working their last day on a job site. As they joke and fight – accusing each other of being prostitutes, liars, and racists – the mood repeatedly shifts between belly laughs and rage. The women are left waiting for hours for their pay by the charity that administers the cash-for-work program. As they wait, they consider what debts they’ll pay off, what food they’ll buy, and how they’ll stay warm during the approaching winter. There is lively discussion about what happens to all the aid that never reaches them, and whether Karzai is a crook or a servant of the people.

Is the camera revealing anything truthful, or simply inciting these women to present what they think ‘the other’ wants to hear – or what might get them something from the world on the other side of the camera? Who is on the other side of that camera anyway?

Sayed Qasem Hossaini, after growing up in Sari Pul and Balk provinces, now studies in the Cinema and Fine Arts department at Kabul University.  He has previously produced a short video report on carpet making, served as a sports reporter for a community newspaper, and works as a freelance production assistant.


Building Local Capacity – Giving Voice to Afghans through Filmmaking

In the interest of amplifying the voices and expertise of Afghans, Community Supported Film conducted an intensive 5-week training of 10 Afghans in documentary production in the fall of 2010.  After three weeks of rigorous exercises, each student was required to develop and produce a character driven short documentary.  The resulting films are gathered in this collection, The Fruit of Our Labor.  For many of them this is their directorial debut as a documentary filmmaker.  CSFilm continues its training and production program in Afghanistan.


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CSFilm on BU Panel, Monday with Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Barfield, Douglas Kriner and Neta Crawford

Boston University:

America at War: America and the West in the Islamic World — Al Qaeda and the Origin of 9/11 Attack

First in a series of panels marking 10 years of the U.S. at War since 9/11.
Speakers: Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Barfield, Douglas Kriner, Michael Sheridan
When: Monday, Sep 12, 2011 at 7:00pm until 8:15pm
Where: Boston University, Law School (Auditorium), 765 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, USA

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CSFilm at DocUtah, September 14 and 15, panels and screenings

DocUtah: inspiring a global connection through documentary films and intellectual discussion.

Michael will attend DocUtah, September 14 and 15 to participate in two panels:

Filmmaker Seminar:
When: Wednesday, September 14th, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Red Cliffs Cinema Theaters
1750 E. Red Cliffs Dr.
Washington, UT 84780
(435) 673-1994

DocUtah Commons
Every year, DocUtah and the Center for Education, Business and the Arts (CEBA) sponsors the Commons involving viewing films selected to inspire thought about important issues relating to rural communities. This year’s Commons is entitled “Kabul to Kanab”. “Kabul to Kanab” is a unique opportunity to view several short films (approximately eight minutes each) by young filmmakers in Afghanistan.
When: Thursday,September 15th, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Crescent Moon Theater
150 South 100 East
Kanab, UT 84741

Additional Screenings of The Fruit of Our Labor:

When: Sat. 9/10 1-4pm – DSC Eccles Main
Mon. 9/12 7-9 p.m. – DSC Eccles Main
Where: Eccles Fine Arts Center *Festival Hub*
Dixie State College,
155 S. 700 E.
St. George, Utah

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CSFilm at Woods Hole Film Festival with Sebastian Junger, Charles Sennott and Beth Murphy

Posted by Ali Pinschmidt

On Friday August 5th, Community Supported Film presented its Afghan-made documentary series The Fruit of Our Labor at the20th annual Woods Hole Film Festival in Massachusetts. After the screening, CSFilm Director Michael Sheridan fielded questions and then participated in a panel discussion called Filmmaking and War.  The panelists included journalist Sebastian Junger – author of The Perfect Storm and filmmaker of the recent documentary Restrepo – and documentary filmmaker Beth Murphy, who produced and directed Beyond Belief and an upcoming film The List. Both the post–screening discussion and the panel were moderated by award-winning foreign correspondent Charles Sennott, who is also the Executive Editor and Co-Founder of GlobalPost.

The Fruit of Our Labor is a series of 10 documentary shorts made by Afghan filmmakers about the challenges of daily life on the ground. Restrepo documents the deployment of a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.  In Charles’ words, these respective filmmakers are presenting “photographic negatives” of a similar theme. While Sebastian stated his case for making a non-political film that shows the experiences of young American soldiers in and out of battle, Michael reasoned that most Americans only experience Afghanistan from the perspective of battlefront coverage.  He further argued that we need an understanding of Afghanistan from Afghan villagers’ point of view. “Only then will we be able to help ourselves and the people of Afghanistan,” he stated.

Sebastian said that many Afghans thought that 9-11 was a chance to get help from the world, and were excited by this turn of events. However, Sebastian continued, “the effort was squandered by the Bush administration, who forgot Afghanistan and went to Iraq.” Most of the cost of war, he agreed, is borne by civilians.

 

When asked about Afghan resilience, Michael compared the 15-month experience of US troops against the lifetime that many Afghan citizens have experienced the impact of war. With this in mind, he said, “Resilience is not even an issue. [Afghans] can’t do anything but survive; resiliency doesn’t even register anymore”. Referring to the experiences of those he works and lives with in Afghanistan, Michael said that Afghans are shattered physically and mentally, and they lack the type of therapeutic resources that might be available elsewhere. The toll that this takes can result in caustic attitudes, humor, distrust, and aggression. Recently, as president Obama announced troop withdrawal, tensions soared and Afghans, fearing the return of civil war, reviewed the escape plans available to them. For example, days after the Obama announcement a woman showed up at Michael’s door looking for assistance with her application to a community college in Nebraska.

Charles commented that watching The Fruit of Our Labor “was like coming into the middle of a conversation in Afghanistan” – and with unexpected revelations. He said it was eye-opening to him to hear such crass and saucy talk from veiled Afghan women, such as when one woman in Death to the Camera says she “would crush my husband’s balls if he became an addict.”

When asked about the goals for distributing each of the panelists’ films, Michael noted that he hopes The Fruit of Our Labor can foster discussions in general about Afghanistan, hopefully on a congressional and community level all across the country. One idea raised by Charles was how to get The Fruit of Our Labor seen by US military audiences and Restrepo seen more by Afghan civilians and insurgents.

Michael also talked about how ethnic conflict is a core issue in Afghanistan.  A welcomed effect of the 5-week training program was the positive growth that resulted from people of different ethnic backgrounds working together. The small team of 10 trainees represented 3 ethnic groups and included 4 women. While ethnic tensions made the work difficult at times, trainee evaluations throughout the program consistently highlighted what an amazing multi-cultural experience it was.

Screening The Fruit of Our Labor within Afghanistan has the same potential for bridging ethnic divisions. Michael noted that since pessimism and skepticism are so high in the country, for Afghan viewers to see other Afghans doing something positive really gets people talking. Even simply seeing non-scripted nonfiction films is a new experience in Afghanistan, as most people have only been exposed to soaps and Bollywood movies.

The event included a discussion of next steps. Michael explained that CSFilm’s goal, funding dependent, is to make the training and mentoring program in Afghanistan sustainable. This will include an ongoing cycle of teaching video production and post-production, proposal writing and business management, mentoring Afghans through the production of their own commissioned and independent films and the use of these films for public engagement locally and internationally.

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Michael Sheridan interviewed on America Abroad Media

America Abroad Media talks with Michael Sheridan about his creation of Community Supported Film, experiences in Afghanistan, the training of Afghans in documentary filmmaking and video journalism and the revealing stories that they are telling. Watch Interview

 

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CSFilmmakers present at World Bank

The World Bank office in Kabul invited Community Supported Film’s emerging filmmakers to present their work to their foreign and Afghan staff in April. Presentations like this are a great opportunity for two-way exchange and an important component of Community Supported Film’s educational mission.

The Afghans in the audience, all World Bank employees, learned about documentary film and its role in expanding knowledge and critical discourse, and about social and economic development issues. For the foreign staff, the films provided a view of development activities and local perspectives that they have limited access to due to their security restrictions. For the filmmakers it was helpful to experience how audiences interpret their work and how they can best communicate about and defend their intentions.

The Afghans present at the screening challenged a number of the filmmakers about what they perceived as negative depictions oftheir country and people. This is not an uncommon reaction. Unfamiliar with the nature of documentary film, many Afghans assume the subjects are instructed in what to do and say. The idea that people would be filmed going about their daily lives and speaking their own minds is new to many. Typically the only voices heard in Afghan news and non-fiction film are those of the authoritative narrator and the political, economic and religious elite. To give voice to the uneducated and to depict the lives of construction workers, bakers, and banana sellers – especially if they are women – is perceived by some as irresponsible and counter-productive to the positive portrayal of development in the country.

Some Afghans in the audience assumed that the films were made for foreigners, and therefore felt even more strongly that the filmmakers had a responsibility as Afghans to select their characters more carefully, and that the characters should represent the norms of the society and provide a positive outlook. One viewer chastised Aqeela Rezai, maker of the film The Road Above about a female construction worker; he argued that she had depicted an extreme situation since he had never seen a woman wearing a burqa working on road construction.

For the filmmakers it was an excellent opportunity to explain and defend their work. One of the challenges for an artist is to be able to listen to criticism without getting defensive. One of the Afghan viewers, who happened to disagree with many of his colleague’s criticisms of the films, was critical of the filmmakers for reacting defensively. He felt they should learn to listen to the comments and explain their choices but not get defensive and angry if people expressed opinions that they didn’t agree with.

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Bumpy uphill roads in Afghanistan

I was back in Afghanistan for the month of April, when spring was rapidly coming to Kabul and the arid climate quickly shifts from below freezing into the 70sF. I worked with some of the trainees on the making of their commissioned films (see: Trainees win filmmaking contracts).

I am again now in Afghanistan for June and July, working on making the film that got this all started, Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War. It seems so long ago since my first pre-production trip to Afghanistan in ‘09. It was then that I realized that – as a foreigner and male – I could not make the film alone. Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War had to convey the inner perspectives of Afghan villagers and families – and therefore had to be made by Afghans with access to those communities. From this idea, we developed the documentary filmmaking trainings. After concluding the training in November, already with a beautiful set of short videos, the team has been scouting for the best stories to continue on with their filmmaking.

The conflicted and conservative condition of Afghanistan will not make these stories easy to tell – even by Afghans. But the team knows that these stories will help to reveal what works and what doesn’t when it comes to trying to improve economic and social conditions in Afghanistan – a place culturally and politically complex, and dogged by radical insurgents, poverty, illiteracy, unforgiving natural forces, and so much more.

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