WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED
Time & Location
About the Event
WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED (Afghanistan, Qatar, USA •2019). Virtual Tickets are $10 for 7 days of viewing.
Utterly unique in film history, Mariam Ghani's archival marvel WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is a probing and engrossing case study in censorship, authoritarianism, and political art. Thirty years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent civil war, during a new era of political uncertainty for the embattled nation, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED looks closely at the era of state-funded Afghan filmmaking during the country’s Communist era, bringing together dozens of writers, actors, and filmmakers to discuss five unfinished, unedited projects produced between 1978 and 1991. All five films – THE APRIL REVOLUTION (1978), DOWNFALL (1987), THE BLACK DIAMOND (1989), WRONG WAY (1990), and AGENT (1991) – completed principal photography before being canceled by the state or abandoned by the filmmakers. Never edited, they escaped the final censors’ cut. And while all five films are fictional, they each record some aspect of the period.
After each regime change, leaders always saw propagandistic potential in Kabul’s rich filmgoing culture and the high quality of Afghan filmmaking. Scenes from the five never-before-seen films, beautifully restored, testify to the immense resources provided to filmmakers willing to play by certain rules. The studio politics and mishaps that accompany any film’s production here rise to the level of life-and-death conflict, as filmmakers recall coming up against the censorship of an authoritarian government, as well as unceasing threats of violence. Depicting the censorship process with astounding detail, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED raises potent, eternally relevant questions about art and politics, the freedom of speech, and what happens when the truth becomes a bargaining chip.
WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED brings together the newly rediscovered and restored footage from these lost films with present-day interviews that reveal the behind-the-scenes stories of the filmmakers (including directors, actors, and crew members who often swapped roles), and new footage shot in the same locations by some of the same directors and cinematographers. Just as the original filmmakers did when they shot action scenes with real bullets, hired ex-agents to play spies, or restaged the Communist coup d’état with the army, air force, and an awful lot of tanks and missiles, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED interweaves histories and fictions. We call on the filmmakers to explain how their fictions were constructed, how much truth was in these fictions and how true they sometimes became in their making. And ultimately, we come to understand both the price paid by Afghan filmmakers for the benefits they gained under Communism and the reasons they persisted despite the risks they faced –and why they still believe that film could save Afghanistan from the divisions tearing it apart today.
Mariam Ghani, the accomplished visual artist and a longtime advocate for film conservation, makes a passionate and personal feature directorial debut. Selected by the Berlin Film Festival, DOC NYC, and Il Cinema Ritrovato, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is an unsettling and brilliantly researched exposé which will prove disquieting to filmmakers and audiences alike.
"A testament to the power of film, a statement on art transcending conflict, a critique of censorship and a trip down a nostalgic, cinematic memory lane.” -Film Threat
"A true kaleidoscope of images and ideas, an extremely concise audiovisual avalanche from which you want to absorb everything, because you will not soon see anything similar.” -Vice