Reel Love

Shyla Seller

The Forbidden Reel (directed by Ariel Nasr and screened as part of DOXA 22) is a documentary about the activities and archives of Afghan Films, Afghanistan’s national film production company, active from the late 196s. Some films in the archives date back to the 192s; most were made between 1946 and 1996, when the Taliban captured Kabul. Throughout The Forbidden Reel are gorgeous clips of Afghanistan life and stills from behind the scenes of shoots. Actors, filmmakers, and others involved with the productions and their restoration talk about the meaning and importance of moving images—as idea, art, imagination—showing glorious and inspiring representations of their country over time. The history of the medium is evident in the way the clips look on screen; according to one interviewee, communist projectors common in the country in the 198s were large and clunky and left long scratches on the films in the archive, scratches still evident in their digitized form.

After Afghanistan’s Communist revolution in 1978, government funding for film increased, women could work, and more roles were developed for them; these conditions led to a golden age of Afghan filmmaking. But in the 199s government funding for filmmaking was cut and Afghan Films was reduced to a few staff watching over a neglected space without electricity or equipment. Appalling preservation conditions threatening the films’ survival were amplified by the actions of ideological members of government who hated film, shut theatres and forbade women from starring in movies. In response to a tip-off from a Taliban minister of a forthcoming raid, Afghan Films staff risked their lives in order to hide and de-identify films, to try and save them from destruction. These same staff, together with others, like artist and professor Mariam Ghani, speak passionately about their work to restore these films by cleaning and cataloguing them, labelling, rehousing them in canisters, adding leader tape, and eventually, digitizing them.

Filmmaker Ariel Nasr spent five years watching films in a small screening room in Afghanistan while working on The Forbidden Reel and contributed to their preservation by supporting the digitization of clips with the help of technician Marie France Rousseau at the NFB in Montreal. In the film, Nasr explains how he came to the project: his father lost all his family photographs in a house fire during the war in Afghanistan; Nasr himself grew up in Canada and collected images of Afghanistan, feeling guilty for his privileged, conflict-free life. Collecting, watching, making and distributing copies of films were his personal acts of preservation, a way to contribute to the legacy of a country’s history on film.

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Shyla Seller

Shyla Seller works as an archivist and editor in Vancouver, on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.


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