A Flickering Truth

Afghanistan's film history might well have have been lost forever, if not for the brave custodians who risked their lives to conceal films from the Taliban regime. This is a chronicle of their attempts to preserve and restore thousands of hours of film.


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  • ★★★★★ review by Rialto Channel on Letterboxd

    A FLICKERING TRUTH : highlighting the importance of film

    “I am truly passionate about everything I do,” says New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly. “The risks I’ve taken in making some of my documentaries exhibit either passion or craziness.” On her website she goes on to admit that she has always been excited by stories that matter, the personal journeys that reflect a bigger issue, “and my Irish heritage has not only given me red hair but also a thirst for story-telling”.

    With parents that took her everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Portugal and fostered within their daughter a wonder and appreciation for the diversity of peoples and their stories, it is no surprise that Brettkelly went on to make some of the most mesmerising documentary films of the last decade, and tonight’s film, A FLICKERING TRUTH is a beautiful example of her work.

    The multi award-winning international director and producer’s self-funded 2008 film, THE ART STAR AND THE SUDANESE TWINS won the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award at Sundance Film Festival and screened in over 100 film festivals, and that kicked off one heck of a career. She has since been supported by the Sundance Institute, Gucci Tribeca Fund, BritDoc, the Binger Film Lab and the New Zealand Film Commission, and tonight’s doco, A FLICKERING TRUTH opened in competition at both Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. It is near flawless, and easily one of the most affecting documentaries that I have seen in a long time.

    A moving portrayal of one man’s journey to restore thousands of hours of film heritage in post-Taliban Afghanistan, A FLICKERING TRUTH introduces us to Afghan film-maker Ibrahim Arify as he works incessantly to rescue the Afghan film archive in Kabul. After hearing that it was trashed by the Taliban in a religiously inspired frenzy, Arify, then living in Germany, returns to take command of the project. It is a tiring and thankless task at times, and we see the passionate filmmaker exhibiting visible frustration at the slow moving pace and attitudes of his compatriots. From the swindling day labourers to the naive Isaaq, the ageing caretaker who lives in the office, it appears that everyone is in some way conspiring against him.

    As Arify starts to reveal to us the remains of the archive, the importance of film for Afghan history is a message that is impossible to miss. The archive is a place where the stories and culture that the Taliban has aimed to abolish can still survive, and even after Arify has to hastily leave the country, the remaining material is sent out into the provinces to enable screenings of old films for future generations. Film preservation has never looked so essential.

    Brettkelly told Stuff.co.nz that for her, “film is the greatest vessel of our culture of the last 100 years and so to preserve it is so important”, and A FLICKERING TRUTH is a more than worthy testament to that.

    A FLICKERING TRUTH premieres on Thursday 25 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel


  • ★★★★ review by Chris Hormann on Letterboxd

    The internationalism of cinema is highlighted as we observe a few dedicated souls doing their best to restore the film archive in Afghanistan following decades of war.

    This doco unfolds with director Brettkelly allowing us to observe rather than using talking heads or a narrator. It works well and we find ourselves drawn to the archivists, especially "Uncle" Isaaq, who has seen so much in his time - a hunched figure but one for whom film is treasure and critical to his nation's identity and culture. The joy and wonder of the audiences as the films are taken on tour around the country is the satisfying reward.

  • ★★★★ review by baba19 on Letterboxd

    Great visuals. A provoking narrative that created an interesting narrative. The structure was nice, sorta ended on a cliff hangar due to election. However, that's also a positive because it left me wanting to learn more. The subjects of the movie felt like "characters" from a fictitious film. A meta movie because it helps to show the impact film can have. It got me thinking of the cultural impact the films I'm exposed to have and how they reflect.... I liked the match editing of the archival footage with the current stuff; like the sunset, the old buildings, apartments.

  • ★★★½ review by Jacob Powell on Letterboxd

    Pietra Brettkelly's document of a bunch of Afghanis dedicated to restoring their national film archive, in the wake of Taliban destruction of these 'dangerous' cultural artifacts, and with limited means, is equal parts fascinating, enlightening, and sad. Fascinating in its materiality: battered old film canisters and 16mm projectors touring dusty barely developed villages. Enlightening as to the impacts on the everyday populace of the extreme socio-political changes, that have been a near constant part of the country's last 100yrs (at least). Sad in its unwrapping of how much cultural loss is incurred when even a single generation goes without knowledge of who they were and how things have changed. A FLICKERING TRUTH bears witness to the importance of cinema in capturing a nation's cultural memory.

  • ★★★★ review by Ethan Tucker on Letterboxd

    Intriguing to see this New Zealand documentary about the valiant efforts made to save the celluloid treasures of the Afghan Films archive in Kabul, with a particular highlight being the audience scenes as the team of proud Afghan film buffs take their projectors to the provinces and show the 16mm films to the Afghan public, most of whom have lived through invasion after invasion, and more recently the puritanical Taliban regime. These marvelous scenes are reminiscent of the documentary short For The First Time, the 1967 film in which Cuban villagers who had never seen film or TV were shown Charlie Chaplin's 1936 feature Modern Times. It's also interesting to note that thanks to the restoration of Afghan Films, Afghanistan might now boast a better record of its early film history than New Zealand does.

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