Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Frame by Frame": photojournalism returns to Afghanistan after the Taliban falls, but is threatened again

When the Taliban took over much of Afghanistan in 1996 (in a delayed aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1979), it prohibited all photography, and enforced the religious ban aggressively and brutally.  After the Taliban was expelled by the Northern Alliance and US forces in 2001 after 9/11, and a more moderate government (Hamid Karzai) took over, photojournalism could return.  Now, as Afghanistan’s stability is compromised by pressure on the US to leave, the work and even the lives of journalists there is severely threatened.

Frame by Frame”, directed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, builds on this problem, tracking the lives of four photojournalists.  The film shows spectacular shots not only of the mountains and deserts but also of the rural poverty and ramshackle shelters.

But the most disturbing episode in the 85-minute film occurs near the end, at a hospital in Herat in western Afghanistan.  The city supposedly has among the highest rates of self-immolation by women in the country.  The reporter talks to the surgeon, who will not let her film.  The doctor says that a local mullah will send men to retaliate if she reports on the mutilation issue, or at least reports that some of these incidents are committed by men. Then, she shows one of the women, severely burned with scars, by a male family member .

The film was screened Sunday afternoon at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, as part of the Maryland Film Festival. Mo Scapelli hosted the QA.  Mo gave a lengthy answer to my own question about the possible security implications of the film, given the conditions in Afghanistan but also the global situation now, aggravated by ISIS and the FBI's comments.  She indicated that the production team was trying to arrange screenings in Afghanistan, but that it would be a while before the film would be available in any online instant play format because of safety concerns in that country. 

The official site for the film is here.  I thought I saw Submarine listed as a possible distributor in the credits, but Mo said more negotiations for regular distribution continue. 

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