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, 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.