Seeing a film shot exclusively in Afghanistan where fifteen years ago it was a crime to take a photo may be reason enough to see this film. With a historical backdrop of the 1979 Soviet invasion and the subsequent Taliban regime,we are introduced to four Afghan photojournalists who are both attempting to build a free press and also to visually document their world. With better editing and a tighter structure, American directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli would have a more masterful piece. Their thesis is apt and true. A country without artists and cultural artifacts is a country without a history easily shared.
The title “Frame By Frame” is perfect. We see the Afghan story being told like homes being built. With a moving camera lens,we are reminded that the world is beautiful. The haze of a blue-pink sun rise, a paddle boat and blue-hued swan in still water,three sons and a father riding on one bike,a baby in a hammock remind us to not close our eyes.
We get glimpses of Kabul University lectures of “depth of field” and the importance of reflection in photography as integral in understanding the art. To get that “sense of moment” in a picture is shown as important,even waiting patiently in beautiful light is
a championed technique. Whether showing piles of pomegranates or the self-immolation section of a burn unit, we are led to appreciate the political and the artful image.
Photos can lead to change,as iconic Viet Nam and Syrian emigrant photos have shown. One of our photojournalists says that “pressing a shutter is like pressing a trigger”. One photo
called ” girl in green” shows a child of eight screaming amidst dead family members. Raw and emotionally fresh, this image is juxtaposed against the violence of a senior press correspondent’s murder and that of his family. Bravery and grief, a doctor’s fear of retribution,statistics of city female immolation rates are all covered.
Distressing to me was the Prada eye glasses and the driving ambition for international prizes, and the “Hangover 2” watching amid the heart-wrenching images of heroin addiction
in “under the bridge ” photos. It seems like if every Afghan family has an addict,every photojournalist has a Western obsession with Western material success. Is this the way Afghans wish to reframe their nation ?