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.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?
To broaden the dialogue about the US presence in Afghanistan, Community Supported Film posted one Afghan-made film per day in the 10 days leading up to September 11th. The shorts are in Dari and Pashto with English subtitles and can be viewed online through October 7th. Community Supported Film is a US-based nonprofit created by documentary filmmaker Michael Sheridan to strengthen communities through documentary training. Last fall Sheridan led a documentary workshop in Kabul, which put cameras in the hands of its Afghan participants, many for the first time. Together the shorts make The Fruit of Our Labor and are part of the nonprofit’s greater effort to insure that independent voices, particularly in war-torn regions, are heard.
The Independent’s Erin Trahan spoke with Community Supported Films’ program coordinator, Ali Pinschmidt, about how and why this project came to be.
Erin Trahan: These films came from a desire to have Afghan people tell their own stories?
Ali Pinschmidt: Yes. Michael Sheridan wanted to make a documentary film in Afghanistan from both a top-down, militarized, Western perspective and also from the grassroots, highlighting the local perspective. He wasn’t able to get much access… then came idea of training those already doing work in arts or communications fields to be documentary filmmakers as a way to bring Afghan voices into the conversation.
ET: So these shorts address the US involvement in the war in Afghanistan?
Pinschmidt: They’re not a commentary on the war; they’re more from the standpoint of character-driven stories of people negotiating daily life and what it’s like for them. It gives insight on how they are dealing with their problems.
ET: Was Community Supported Film created solely for this project?
Pinschmidt: There’s a hope that it will go beyond Afghanistan, to strengthen the storytelling capacity in conflict zones where there isn’t strong independent media.
ET: Is this the first and only project so far?
Pinschmidt: Yes. Several filmmaker trainees are now out in the field now getting footage for [a feature-length documentary], Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War, which looks specifically at the war’s social and economic impact. Also, several people are building capacity for training additional media makers by making contacts with organizations within Afghanistan.
ET: In addition to your own online campaign, and posting each film to The Independent's Facebook wall, how have you reached audiences so far?
Pinschmidt: Most recently, at the Woods Hole Film Festival. Michael was part of a panel discussion on filmmaking and war with Beth Murphy and Sebastian Junger. The Afghan people with whom [Community Supported Film] works are very afraid of US withdrawal of troops, instability, massive bloodshed… it’s easy to not be a fan of war yet at same time, withdrawal without a strategy or plan to keep people safe could be really dangerous and most Afghans don’t want that. There’s a write-up on our website.
ET: What are the future plans for the films?
Pinschmidt: We hope they can be used by organizations, individuals, media, or groups focusing on issues related to the war in Afghanistan and the country’s development. The films themselves are not necessarily political in nature. They provide a much-needed humanizing perspective.