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Documentary looks at Afghanistan through the eyes of its people

Sep 8, 2015

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In our selfie-happy world where we can take a photo anytime of anything we want, it’s difficult to conceive of life in which photography is completely banned.

No photographs, ever – or face severe punishment.

From 1996 to 2001, that was life in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

After the Taliban fell from power, free press and photojournalism were born.

A new documentary called Frame By Frame takes us to Afghanistan, where we meet four Afghan photojournalists who are working to reframe their country for the world and for its people.

Mo Scarpelli tells us that she and her co-director Alexandria Bombach were drawn to the subject because it gave them a chance to see life in Afghanistan the way that people who live there do, a perspective not often portrayed in the media.

And, in a relatively young climate of photography, the two wanted to look at what it is actually like to take photographs as a professional in a space in which it used to be entirely outlawed.

She tells us that the project started out small, but grew in scope once they started working.

“We thought we were going to make a short film, [but we] met four people who just blew us away. They were incredible and all had very unique takes on what they did and also on how they covered their own country,” Scarpelli says.

Three of the four subjects in the film were children during the Taliban regime who didn’t discover photography until after the Taliban fell from power, she says.

The fourth is a man who shot photographs in secret during the Taliban’s rule. Scarpelli tells us that he worked as a painter, contracted to paint portraits of the Mujahideen leadership, and using those connections gained access to the north in order to document the front lines of the war between the Mujahideen and the Taliban.

There, Scarpelli says he uncovered an ongoing genocide against the Hazara and smuggled rolls of film through Taliban checkpoints disguised as pill bottles.

Scarpelli tells us the film’s cinematography was heavily influenced by the four photojournalists’ styles, and hopes that this sort of portrayal of Afghanistan and its people will help fill in some of the gaps for many of us for whom the country is still so unknown.

“There’s very few films that have been shot in Afghanistan that really tap into the feel of the place,” she says. “We wanted to convey the sense of empathy that they all find within their photographs.”

Frame by Frame – Trailer from RED REEL on Vimeo.

Frame By Frame will have its Michigan debut on Sept. 10 in Big Rapids. More information and tickets can be found on the film’s website.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside