First screenings and discussions in the States

December 1, 2010

The following is an excerpt from an email sent to the Community Supported Film team of filmmakers that has now been founded, post training, in Kabul:

Dear Team,

This week I am working on a revised proposal for funding from the US Embassy, preparing for screenings and speaking opportunities and catching up on many many things left unattended while away.

Monday, I made two presentations of the films followed by discussions.  In both cases I introduced the training, the filmmakers, the work of CSF and showed the excerpts of the films and took questions and comments.

In the morning I presented to students and faculty at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and in the evening to graduate students at the Massachusetts College of Art.  All were very impressed by the quality of the filmmaking, the amount learned and the issues of everyday Afghan life represented by the films.

To my surprise, a few of the art students in the evening didn’t believe the authenticity of the work – primarily because from their point of view the war is not mentioned or shown at all.  When I tried to explain that the film’s intention is to present outsiders a view of Afghanistan beyond the battlefront it became clear that the western media has created such a strong impression of Afghanistan being only about war, terror and extremism, that viewers can not trust a representation that does not include these things.  I am very interested to know what you and the others reaction to this is.  Have we created a false image of daily life in Afghanistan?  I don’t believe so but you should give some feedback.  It would be great if some of the filmmakers could be interviewed about this on tape.  I could include some of this then in the screenings.

Another response from a minority of the viewers was that these films do not represent an Afghan perspective because they feel too ‘western’ in style.  (And others felt they were too good in quality to actually have been made during the 5 week training!) This is very interesting because of course the intention of the training was to help professionalize Afghan documentary filmmaking – so that trainees can get work and make there own high quality films.

I am interested to know if for any of you, this ‘quality’ of filmmaking seems forced by a western stylistic approach?  To some art students in the US, if the films look to be made in the ‘western’ tradition of documentary filmmaking and do not include a unique Afghan documentary filmmaking style, then they can not represent an honest Afghan perspective.  This is a very interesting subject and one we should all think about and discuss further.  I would very much like to know if you all feel that an external style of filmmaking has been forced on you or that you have been taught ‘universal’ aspects of the art and craft of filmmaking and will move on to develop your own style as your careers develop?

I am missing you all very much,

Best wishes,

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  1. Rinat Harel

    Dear Michael– first, I find your vast project to be amazing in many ways! Thank you for doing a vital work that many of us might wish to do themselves. As for the response of Mass Art students’, it seems to me they are sadly limited in their media consumption. They need not go far; for example, The NYT consistently publishes pieces (written, video, etc) showing the Afghans’ daily civil struggles. I used to hear it a lot about Israel (from which I came) during troubled times in the region; many people I talked to have imagined Israel is engulfed by only war and terror, and noting beyond. This is why your project is so needed in the U.S.; to widen people’s horizons.

    As for the Western style of the work; I can imagine that Afghans do not have a rich history of film making. Once they will accrue experience, they might find their own voice. For now, presenting the subject matter itself is the main goal, in my humble opinion.

  2. Kristin

    I am stunned that the U.S. Students did not feel these films were authentic because no show of war? As if their life is only that.
    The fact is here in the U.S. we have NO IDEA what life is like for the Afghan people, and I find it a bit pretentious to say we know.

    However, I do recall watching a James Longley short about Pakistan, beautiful footage of a young man going about daily life, and then at the end he said something about how the war, and it startled me, the contradiction of a normal life happening with war all around.

    Regarding the Western style I agree with Ralph, and also commend you Michael for giving such good instruction. (you are my favorite teacher still..) Styles will evolve from good instruction.
    I am sure there are layers we do not understand, can the women be really open to the camera, are there concerns for their security. But this is an amazing project!

  3. Ralph

    I don’t feel in the least that the documentaries were too “Western” in style but were grounded in the fundamentals of good documentary film-making. Obviously styles will evolve, and the film-makers will go on to do astonishing things. For these 2 and 3 minute pieces I’m not even sure what “not representing an Afghan perspective” means. Were any of the commenters Afghans?


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