LFF Review: Frame By Frame (Alexandria Bombach & Mo Scarpelli, Afghanistan, 2015)

Directors –  Alexandria Bombach, Mo Scarpelli
Producers – Alexandria Bombach, Mo Scarpelli, Jeff Orlowski
Starring – Najibullah Musafer, Wakil Kohsar, Massoud Hossaini and Farzana Wahidy

Frame by Frame follows four photojournalists in Afghanistan and tries to get to the bottom of their personalities, inner drives, and passions as they report from a country which has not seen peace in their lifetimes. The Taliban actually banned photography from 1996-2001. Each of the four now internationally acclaimed photojournalists specialise in different problematic issues in Afghanistan. Massed Wahidy, Pulitzer-winner photographer is a news reporter (imagine the opposite of Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler). His wife, Farzan chose the rocky path of taking stills of women in a country that famously oppresses the rights of half of its society. Najibullah Masafer also works as news reporter while dedicating time to teaching the new generation of photographers. Wail Kohsar goes to places where not many dare to do so; taking pictures of drug addicts in the field, in recovery centres, everywhere. All four of them try to raise awareness to the neglected social issues and they fight with their camera for a safer future. 

The directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli went to Afghanistan in 2012 to shoot a short film, and during their trip saw the country in a new way which made them feel that they wanted to hear Afghanistan’s voice from the Afghans themselves. It becomes so apparent that when someone tells their own story, the perception shifts and authenticity comes to picture, and that motivated Bombach and Scarpelli. They raised enough money with a Kickstarter campaign to go back for 8 weeks of shooting, where they shot 300 hours of film, 8 terabytes of data on 2 cameras, and the result is this 85 mins documentary.

The documentary shows the life of Afghans through the cameras and lenses of real people. It tells us that life is complex, not black and white. The unique style of the documentary didn’t let the audience slip out of the mind of a photographer for a second, knowingly cycling through a variety of types of camerawork, all to engaging effect. There’s a shaky handheld camera approach, stills, static interview style with nauseating focus-pulling that made you feel like you were holding the camera yourself, while simultaneously disorientating you by zooming in and out of the frame. Their style gave rhythm and vitality to the documentary and it also showed Afghans as resilient, kind, brave and generous people. Empathy was at the heart of the film just as it has to be at the heart of every photojournalist.

During the time of Frame By Frame travelling around festivals in the US, the four intrepid journalists and the two directors have seen their story continue. As they mention at the end of the film, more Afghani photojournalists were killed in 2014 than ever before. A colleague featured in Frame By Frame was killed with his family after the it wrapped initial filming.

Watching Frame by Frame is to be transported to a wounded and warring country without the prearranged words of pretentious western reporting, instead showing people’s personal battles through their own ‘camera focus’, a thoroughly enriching experience.

Written by Zsofia Szemeredy

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