VIFF 2015 Review: A Flickering Truth

Reels of Afghani film hidden from decades of warfare and political regimes are uncovered for restoration in A Flickering Truth.
Reels of Afghani film hidden from decades of warfare and political regimes are uncovered for restoration in A Flickering Truth.

“When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”

-popular internet quote

A Flickering Truth is the first documentary I saw at the VIFF. I’m a bit mistrustful of documentaries but this was an eye opener.

The film opens with some Afghani men looking for a job. The job pays lousy even with their pay boosted 4 times the amount of their original offer. The boss, Ibrahim Arify, seems like a dictator giving orders and belittling his workers and his abilities. Then you see what business this is: Afghan Film. Over time, you see what their mission is. Their job is to restore many old films to show the Afghani people on a national tour.

Over time you will see this is no vanity effort. Afghan Film is more than just a film company. It’s a building archiving both the entertainment films and film footage of news events. Inside the building of Afghan Film are films that had to be kept in private rooms and hiding places. We’re dealing with film in a country that has gone through corrupt tyrannous rule for about half a century. The company came about while Afghanistan had a king. The king was friendly and helped the Afghani people mostly live well despite their impoverished conditions. Then he was deposed in a coup d’etat by his uncle in 1973 and it was downhill from then on. More than five years later his uncle was hanged and the Soviets invaded. The Soviets left in 1987 and the Mujahideen took over. Then the Taliban in 1996. After war was declared to oust the Taliban, Afghanistan became a democracy and more freedoms were restored. But not without daily threats on people’s lives that continue today. Even standing in a line-up to vote in an election is a threat on your life. That’s Afghanistan.

Afghan Film was a company that was under thread of the constant regimes and the tyranny that came with it. As we watch Arify get the project under way, we learn what type of films Afghan Film has kept hidden and has ready to show. They show archived footage, mostly in black and white of Afghanistan’s moments of history from military marches on camelback in the 1930’s to footage of the king’s visit to Washington in 1963 and a warm reception from President Kennedy to footage of the royal family swimming at the palace to even the most brutal aftermaths of war and political upheaval. Their final film footage was of the 1996 hanging of President Najibullah by the Taliban.

Afghan Film is not just film footage. They also have archived many entertainment films they’ve had hidden. Many of the films were of war dramas but there were also many romance films. They even archive Afghani films made during the silent era of the 1920’s and even a drama made back in 1936: films that came to be long before Afghan Film was founded.

What Afghan Film was saving this whole time was a part of Afghanistan’s cultural and historical identity. What their saving it all from and why becomes very obvious over time. Seeing of what the films of archive and entertainment contain are easy to see why the various political regimes and especially the Taliban would consider it a threat. We see films of kings and rulers, of luxury, of fields of poppies, of feelings of love, of conscientious thought, and even women without burkas or veils. Seeing the images and one’s knowledge of the Taliban can easily see why the Taliban would consider it a threat. In fact, film or even television entertainment of any kind was not allowed during their control of the entire country. Much of the film we see in the documentary is only a small portion of the film from Afghanistan. Most of Afghanistan’s films have been burned by the Taliban. All those hidden films they bring out and even recover in hiding places are the lucky ones.

We see the importance of saving the films. We also see the huge task of restoring the films and having them ready to show the crowds. It’s a challenge as they can only do so much themselves. Sending them off to foreign countries to do it for them is also a challenge as restoration is not always guaranteed. There’s one scene where one film which was sent to South Korea for restoration makes it back unrestored because the company was too busy The company did send a letter of apology. They show the difficulty of planning the national tour. Sure, the Taliban doesn’t control the whole of Afghanistan anymore but there are many areas especially around the border of Pakistan where Taliban control remains. We’re even reminded of the current situation of Afghanistan when we see the shattered glass of the former Afghan Films president’s apartment from a bomb blast.

The restoration and national exhibition of the films are not just simply a mission but also a mission of personal nature for the past president Isaaq Yousif and his successor Ibrahim Arify. Yousif has been president of the company for many decades. He was orphaned at 13 and was never matched with a woman in his lifetime. The film was his life. We see films he acted in when he was younger. He’s one who has survived the various regimes and civil wars in the country. There was a time the Afghan Film office was even his personal home. Ibrahim Arify was luckier as he fled Afghanistan in the 1980’s to live in Germany. He married an Afghani woman and had three children. His wife and two of his children are afraid to set foot in Afghanistan. Life in Germany helped make Arify a good business man and admires those of his colleagues that stayed behind, even those that were killed. The mission is almost like a ‘passing of the torch’ from Yousif to Arify especially since this happens during the last year of Yousif’s life. We even see Yousif’s grave.

The restoration is completed and the films make their tour. Arify has to return to Germany as Afghanistan is holding an election and foreigners risk having their lives threatened. The tour starts in Kabul and will be an outdoor showing. Security is there. Popcorn is popped. The crowd enjoys what their seeing. The tour visits many town halls and schools and is a huge success and shows promise for the future.

The most revealing moment of the documentary comes at the end when the people are watching the films. All this that has survived regimes and destructive wars. As the films are shown, the cameras focus on the people viewing. The most profound images are those of the children. They’re watching images of times when Afghanistan was prosperous, films of people not afraid to speak their emotions and women not restricted to what they wore. As the children watch, who knows what confidence it will give them towards their own future?

This documentary is a revealing introspect from Pietra Brettkelly. She not only shows us the films but the people behind restoring them and the country that’s it’s taking place. It’s like we’re looking inside-out into Afghanistan, what the country is been through and why this is so important. Hearing Arify and Yousif talk about the country and its history in both its positive and negative aspects sheds a light on what we’re dealing with. Hearing Arify describe the Afghani people as lazy by nature does get you thinking too: “If the Afghani people weren’t so lazy, the Taliban wouldn’t have lasted a week. People think I act like a dictator. You have to be like a dictator to get the people to do their job right.”

Actually that was a quality Brettkelly included where she lets the men in the film tell their story. Even the female actors of films past give a unique introspect. The film is an excellent documentary that appears put together very well. I don’t know if it tells the whole history of Afghani film but it tells a lot. It even presents the events leading to the exhibition in a very good manner. It may appear a bit disorganized at times but it does it very well.

A Flickering Truth may not stand out from many documentaries as we know it but it does show something unique and a story that deserves to be told. It almost makes those words from Churchill, whether he really said them or not, look very true here.

9/11 Remembered

September 11, 2001: A day that will live on forever. A lot has changed in the ten years since. Air security is way tighter. Arabic names and words no one could pronounce previously have since become part of our everyday vocabulary. Entering the United States is more regulated. Being Arab American has made people more victim to racism than ever before. We have a no-fly list and a terrorism alert of color grades. We have people claiming conspiracy theories. We have had two wars declared since which has further divided political sides. We’ve caught many to do with the terrorism but have more to go.

Around this time, you will read many articles and views surrounding the events, political climates and beliefs of the writers. You will hear many stories from those involved to those who lost loved ones to those in political power. As for me, I won’t be focusing on such. Instead I will focus on the day as I remember it.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 started off like any other day for me. I wasn’t yet 30 and had recently moved to Vancouver months earlier and living in a character house with at least six other residents at the time. I was off to work and listening to a radio show talking about a bizarre contest where people do crazy stunts for the sake of an entry. Things wouldn’t be the same after that. In the morning while I was on a break from my first job, I saw one of my co-workers laughing. When I saw him, he said a plane hit the World Trade Center. Some of you may think it was insensitive but looking back, I think he was laughing at the bizarreness of the event. When I first heard the news from him, I first thought it was probably a small passenger plane and it hit one of the Twin Towers by accident. That afternoon I was working at my second job for a government business. I heard one of my supervisors talking about what happened and saying that it could have happened to a building like ours. Hearing that, I started to think that this may not be an accident after all, but how?

Later on in the day as I was returning home, I saw news stories and images of the events that happened. There was even a second newspapers issued that day about the events. I saw one of the towers hit by an airplane was burning while another airplane hit the other tower. When I first saw it, I was in disbelief. I thought it was something that could only happen in the movies. Then hearing of other crashes like the plane that hit the Pentagon and one that crashed in a failed attempt to hit Camp David. Then hearing how all Worldwide commercial air ground to a halt. Then seeing images of people running and screaming for their lives as the first of the Twin Towers crashed down. The events were just completely unreal in my mind. Until then, I always thought hijacking a plane was always about the terrorist using plane passengers hostages for the sake of making demands. Until then, I’ve only heard of airplanes used as weapons during the Kamikaze attacks of World War II. I never thought that terrorist could use passenger planes for the sake of a suicide mission. The attacks on the Twin Towers also immediately brought back a memory of how back in 1993, the World Trade Centre was bombed but there were only five fatalities at the time. I also remember that the mastermind was a Muslim cleric. Remembering that got me thinking that the attackers had the failed attempt from 1993 in mind to bring the towers down for sure that time.

Then back at my home, I met with the other residents in my character house and we were all shocked. One who was visiting from the Netherlands even videotaped the speech from President Bush. The day was just completely surreal. All networks were focused on all the events that happened. There was no changing the other channel. It would continue to be that way for at least two weeks straight.

Days later, I would hear stories of those who died that day. There was even a memorial service broadcast from radio at my workplace that consisted of five minutes of silence. I also heard from those who lost loved ones. Even later on I heard even further details of the activities. Hearing about how some of the terrorists went to flying school to carry out those activities completely surprised me. Hearing how Al-Qaeda had a worldwide network with followers even in Canada shocked me. Hearing of these countries having weapons given to them by the United Stated puzzled me even further. Hearing the various reactions around the world also caught my eye. Most of the world, including many Arab countries, expressed their condolences to the events. There were some, like Palestinians, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, who considered that day a day of celebration. Then there were the speeches of Osama bin Laden. Already infamous for his years of bomb attacks on American embassies in other countries, he led the taunts. Shockingly he promised a ‘great day of terror’ weeks earlier.

Despite all the nastiness, there were also a lot of positives. The United States however refused to let it defeat them and a renewed sense of patriotism happened. New York City also developed its own pride in itself. People who used to diss the police and firemen and politicians almost immediately rallied behind them. Families would help out stranded air passengers during that time. Nations would come to the support of the United States and some other nations even lost citizens of their own.

Ten years have passed. Yeah, you could say a lot has changed. Even reflecting back on the happenings of that tragic day still boggles my mind. Commercial planes used as weapons for a suicide mission. Four flights hijacked with the intent to destroy four places. Thousands dead. I was never involved with it nor did I personally know anyone who died that day but even ten years ago, it does seem like yesterday.

Anyways those are my thoughts on 9/11. I just wanted to reflect on what I remember from that day. I didn’t want to get into any political speech or political thought. If you want any political thought from me, read my Osama bin Laden is Dead article. Since I wrote it, Al-Qaeda has elected a new leader. Whether he has the same sophistication as Osama or not is something only time will tell. I just hope there’s no massive loss of life in the process. There you go. That’s the most political I will get in this article.

I hope you liked what I had to say because that’s what I remember. I was never an actual part of the events. I never knew anyone lost that day. Nevertheless I still remember the constant broadcast of the day’s events and the atmosphere surrounding it. You can’t deny how much it’s changed the world and changed people. I end my article saying: God Bless the souls of those lost that day and may God continue to be with the families.

Osama Bin Laden’s Death Doesn’t Make The World Safer

The news came unexpectedly on May 1, 2011. Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi hermit and terrorist leader of Al-Qaeda who was the master mind of the attacks on US soil on September 11,2001, was finally found and killed. He had been on the run from the law and taunting the US by videotape for 9 1/2 years until he was finally caught and killed. Reactions have been numerous and varied. One thing is for sure, that his death leaves an uncertain question about the safety of the world, particularly the United States.

¬†Before September 11, 2001, the world was not a safe happy place. The World was a place that was already as precautionary as it felt to be. Airline terrorism had been a reality for almost 40 years and prevention procedures were already in place and carried out as best as they did. Terrorism from Muslim extremists, especially against the US, had been known for years. Until then the biggest terrorist attack on US soil from foreigners was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which left six dead but failed to bring the two towers down. Osama bin Laden was actually already on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. His connection to money and his ability to access arms was already legendary. He formed and headed the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which means ‘the foundation’. He helped to empower the Taliban in Afghanistan and they would become his biggest ally.¬† He was the admitted mastermind of the 1998 US Embassy bombings: the August 7, 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya that left hundreds dead. He had already been known for making a ‘death wish’ against the United States for his wish to see every American dead. In 1999, just two years before 9/11, Bill Clinton had already encouraged sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to extradite him. Weeks before 9/11, bin Laden promised in a videotape a ‘great day of terror’ to the United States.

Then 9/11 happened. Terrorists with flight training knowledge committed possibly the most shocking terrorist attack ever. The Two Towers destroyed by terrorists in a Kamikaze-style attack. Part of the Pentagon was also destroyed by a plane attack. A fourth plane meant for the Camp David site crashed outside it thanks to the vigilantism of American passengers. In the aftermath, thousands of Americans were dead. The world’s airline system was shut down for days. Memorial services were conducted all around the world. Some Arab countries and Arab peoples considered it a great victory for them and punishment from Allah to the US. Bin Laden himself acknowledged the attacks and praised the ‘martyrs’ in the attacks. He promised more in the future and promised never to get caught. Soon President George W. Bush declared war in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bin Laden was now the World’s Most Wanted man.

Even while at large for years, Osama still had access to money and had a huge worldwide group of allies with the ability to carry out a terrorist attack anywhere in the World at any given time. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent war in Iraq have fueled further attacks since. Osama’s Al-Qaeda have carried many terrorist acts out since that have left a total of hundreds dead: the 2004 Madrid Train bombings; the 2005 attacks in London; two bombings in Algiers in 2007; the 2008 bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan; a 2009 shooting in Little Rock; and two failed bombing attempts.

You could say the world has changed a lot since 9/11. Arabic words we never knew before are now part of our everyday language. Airline security has become more advanced and becomes increasingly stricter after additional foiled terrorist attempts. We have no-fly lists. We have a colored alert system whenever a terrorist threat appears coming. Right-wing and left-wing politics in the United States have increased in their division. We have a ‘Patriot Act’ which claims to be a prevention to terrorism. We had a terrorist list introduced in attempts to catch those connected to the bombings or terrorist associations. There have even been conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks with protesters seeking attention for their cause. A lot has changed in the past ten years. The one thing that remained unchanged during that time was Osama bin Laden was alive and still at large. His lack of access to any means of modern technology besides a personal courier helped keep him from being found for years. He was capable of orchestrating terrorist attacks and shelling out videos to Al Jazeera television while remaining at large from authorities. Billions of dollars and cooperation from many nations failed to capture bin Laden. But on May 2, 2011, that all changed.

On May 2, 2011 in Pakistan (still May 1 back in the US), Osama had been killed by shots to the head and chest by an operation ordered by Barack Obama on his compuond some 40 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan. This operation was conducted by Navy SEALs under the command by the Joint Special Operations Command in cooperation with the CIA. It will forever be remembered at Operation Neptune Spear. Many other associates of Bin Laden, including his courier, one son and two others, were also killed. Soon after the killing, his body was taken to Afghanistan for identification and confirmation, then buried him at sea within 24 hours.

Reaction around the world was almost immediate. US President Barack Obama made the address on US television with the phrase “Justice has been done.” There was cheering in the streets, especially in New York around the area where the Twin Towers stood. Many Americans, especially those who lost loved ones on 9/11, were met with relieve that the killer had finally been brought to justice. There’s also cynicism too. Some conspiracy theorists are adding to the claim it’s a conspiracy. Many are demanding that the ‘death photo’ be shown. In the Arab World, reactions were mixed. Pakistan is denying ‘hiding’ bin Laden since his compound was so close to the capital of Islamabad. Some were happy of his death. Others were hurt and angry that their hero had been killed by the Americans.

It is because of the latter reactions that it’s too soon to believe that the world is a safer place now that Osama is gone. Both Obama and Bush have stated that. We should not forget that Al-Qaeda was a group built on revenge. That is why they carried out their terrorist attacks. Osama even stated that the 9/11 attacks were for revenge of all the Arab blood. Osama has also stated in previous tapes that he had people to carry on his mission even after his death. Even Al-Qaeda promised revenge shortly after acknowledging Osama’s death. That is the top reason why the US won’t release the death photo of Osama. Plus with Al-Qaeda spread so far out around the world, including countries like the US and Canada, there’s no telling when and where the next terrorist attack will happen. Also there’s no telling who from Al-Qaeda would be the new mastermind and there will be no telling what new security precautions will result because of this. So the terrorism precautions used shortly after 9/11 still have to be in effect. Also airlines have to maintain top professionalism and security competence to keep any further security risks. we should not forget that part of the 9/11 attacks’ success was taking advantage of the security ‘weak spots’ at airports.

While millions of people are probably still celebrating Osama’s death, the celebrations can’t last for long. The next ten, possibly twenty, years will tell whether this was a smart movie for the US to carry out. I personally wanted to see Osama arrested, tried by a World tribunal court, and executed. Also the next years will tell whether Al-Qaeda was in fact weakened by Osama’s death or only grew stronger and wider. Only time will tell.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden>

WIKIPEDIA: Death Of Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011.Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Osama_bin_Laden>