Issues & Analysis
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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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Ali Pinschmidt joins CSFilm!

We are very lucky to have Ali Pinschmidt joining us as our new Program Coordinator.  Ali has a long history of interest in using video as a tool for social change.

Her Clark University Master’s Practitioner Report was on Avenues for Community Organizing & Social Change through Participatory Video, Community Screenings, and Video Activism Training. She will be teaching the course Video for Social Change at Clark University this fall.

From 2003-04 she worked in Mozambique as a teacher for Development Aid from People to People, and in 2009 she worked with Video Volunteers in India.  And it goes on… Needless to say we are very happy to have her with us.

 

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The Trouble With The Transition

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A 155mm round is fired from a Howitzer at insurgents at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar Province on July 8.

July 9, 2011, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Commentary by Muhammad Tahir

“We cannot assume security responsibility for this province.”

The man who said this is General Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh, the security commander of the Panjshir province of northern Afghanistan. He went on to explain that “because our province is bordered by insecure provinces, we need a huge force.”

This alarming statement completely undercuts the premises of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in the coming year.  ….

Kabul, Panjsher, and Mazar-e Sharif are the towns with the safest security records in Afghanistan. If things are this bad there, the situation in the rest of the country can only be described as frightening. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, suicide attacks, jail breaks, and militant attacks on security posts are regular occurrences. ….

When 10,000 U.S. troops and thousands of British and French forces start leaving Afghanistan this month, what will they be leaving behind?  [Read the full editorial]

 

 

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Harvard University Talk

 

Creating an effective documentary is a decidedly difficult task; one must carefully consider both the story and its intended audience, and along the way, balance the variety of perspectives that comprise the finished product. In 2009, documentary filmmaker Michael Sheridan attempted this complex undertaking, and worked to capture on film the true conditions of war-stricken Afghanistan. To achieve a more realistic representation of the underdeveloped nation, Sheridan trained a group of Afghani students in the art of documentary filmmaking, so that their stories could be told in their own voices.

Sheridan visited Harvard to discuss this project in a talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE)

[Read Harvard Crimson Article]

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Propaganda wars driving conversation around state of security in Afghansitan

Whether security is imporving or not in Afghanistan depends on whether you are asking those that want to get out or those that have to stay.

The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland

“A little more than a year after the transfer of additional U.S. troops was completed, violence increased across the country, hitting new peaks in May 2011 as the Taliban launched their spring offensive, which resulted in the highest recorded number of civilian casualties incurred in a single month since the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan began in 2001. It is unlikely that this trend will be reversed anytime soon. Following the announcement by President Barack Obama on 22 June 2011 of U.S. plans to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012, it appears likely that the insurgency will push forcefully to gain more ground before the military drawdown reaches its final phase by December 2014.”

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/afghanistan/207-the-insurgency-in-afghanistans-heartland.aspx

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Trainees win filmmaking contracts

Four of our ten trainees submitted story ideas in response to a request for proposals for TV content geared toward “countering extremist voices.” All four of them won contracts. This was an unanticipated, but very positive, outcome of the capacity-building originally carried out to support production of the film Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War.

It is an incredible achievement for emerging filmmakers who had not produced full-length, character driven documentaries or written proposals before. Their films will be part of a series, to be aired on Afghan Television, that will highlight the work that ordinary Afghans are doing to improve their economic, social and cultural situations.

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Screening Tour – The Fruit of Our Labor

  • “Transformative”
  • “Eye-opening and Disturbing”
  • “The first time in ten years I’ve actually heard an Afghan’s voice”
  • “I’ve made a film in Afghanistan. I’ve seen the results of other trainings. Nothing compares to what your trainees have accomplished.”

Those are a few of the hundreds of viewer’s responses to The Fruit of Our Labor short-films produced by Afghans during CSFilm’s documentary production training last fall. It has been a very rewarding few months. The films have created the kind of response we hoped for. They have helped Americans see another side of Afghanistan beyond the relentless battlefront coverage of the western media. These films allow Americans to understand more about who Afghans are, the challenges they face and the efforts they aremaking to move their lives, communities and country beyond its terrible past.  Understanding what Afghan civilians face should play an important part in our considerations of what our role should be in Afghanistan. There are very real humanitarian concerns beyond our interests to get our own troops out.

Since December I am very thankful for all the effort individuals, organizations, and communities have put into organizing presentations and screenings. This commitment has allowed the films and work of Community Supported Film to be presented at dozens of venues during a 19 city tour, including: The Asia Society – NYC, The US Institute of Peace – DC, Harvard, Tufts, Boston and Carnegie Mellon Universities and a live event between Kabul and Pittsburgh at Conflict Kitchen – a take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries that the US is in conflict with.

My tears at the end of the Conflict Kitchen event surprised me. A video connection between the audience in Pittsburgh and the filmmakers in Afghanistan allowed the two groups to virtually share a meal of Bolani while watching a selection of the films. The screening was followed by a wonderfully engaging conversation full of revelations, ideas and hopes. The bridge building between communities was direct. It brought together all my dreams for the work of Community Supported Film: the training in Afghanistan led to the making of revealing stories, which then provided a unique opportunity for public engagement and education.

Please help us make the most of these remarkable films and organize a screening in your community. We are planning now for our summer and fall screenings. We are especially interested in opportunities to create direct conversations between your community and the filmmakers and others in Afghanistan. Please email info[at]csfilm[dot]org with your ideas.

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“Afghan Schools Short on Buildings and Books,” By Maiwand Safi, IWPR

• June 15, 2011: While officials hail progress on education, only half the country’s schools have the premises and teaching materials they need.

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Since 2001, international donors have injected billions of dollars into the construction of schools for both boys and girls. The education ministry says that half the 14,100 schools in Afghanistan have buildings, laboratories, libraries and textbooks.

Afghans responded by sending their children to schools in droves, although male students still outnumber female by a 3-to-2 ratio.

Today, however, many parents feel let down by the continuing shortage of textbooks, trained and motivated teachers and basic classroom facilities.

Read more

 

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“On the Mend? America Comes to Its Senses,” by Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a retired career officer in the United States Army. His most recent book is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

“…..Nearly 10 years have passed since Washington set out to redeem the Greater Middle East.  The crusades have not gone especially well.  In fact, in the pursuit of its saving mission, the American messiah has pretty much worn itself out.

Today, the post-9/11 fever finally shows signs of abating.  The evidence is partial and preliminary.  The sickness has by no means passed.  Oddly, it lingers most strongly in the Obama White House, of all places, where a keenness to express American ideals by dropping bombs seems strangely undiminished.

Yet despite the urges of some in the Obama administration, after nearly a decade of self-destructive flailing about, American recovery has become a distinct possibility.  Here’s some of the evidence:

Read on

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Water Ways film highlighted

The United States Institute of Peace’s PeaceMedia initiative has highlighted Majid Zarand’s short Water Ways.  You can see it and learn more about USIP and Peace Media at PeaceMedia.

 

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