January 23rd: WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED, the first feature film directed by internationally acclaimed artist Mariam Ghani, will celebrate its world premiere at the section Forum of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is the mostly true story of five unfinished films from the Communist era in Afghanistan. A tight-knit group of filmmakers loved cinema enough to risk their lives for art – in a time when films were weapons, filmmakers became targets, and the dreams of constantly shifting political regimes merged with the stories told on screen.
Director/Producer: Mariam Ghani
USA / Afghanistan/ Qatar, 2019, 72 minutes
Original language / subtitles: Dari / English
Executive Producer: Alysa Nahmias
A production of Indexical Films in association with Ajna Films
World Sales: Wide House (Anais Clanet)
Completed with the support of the Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program and TFI Network
Major funding provided by Creative Capital, Doha Film Institute, and the New York State Council on the Arts
Post-production support from EMPAC, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
In WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED archival fictions, present-day recollections, and both imagined and real visions of Afghanistan slip and slide into each other in a film that reminds us that nations are inventions, and films can reinvent them.
Between 1978 and 1991, the Afghan government changed hands five times. The Communist regimes all commissioned feature films. Five of those films were shot, but never edited, escaping the pervasive censorship of the time. WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is made from the rediscovered footage of those five unfinished Afghan Communist films, present-day interviews that reveal the behind-the-scenes stories of the filmmakers and new footage shot in the same locations by some of the same directors.
Throughout the interweaving of histories and fictions, the film shows how the fictions were constructed, how much truth was in them by design, and how true they sometimes became in their making. Gradually 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 – censorship, prison, opposition attacks and even death – and why they still believe that film could save Afghanistan from the divisions tearing it apart today.
Mariam Ghani is an artist, writer, and filmmaker.
Her work looks at places, spaces and moments where social, political and cultural structures take on visible forms. Her previous projects in Afghanistan have documented the spatial politics of the post-war constitutional assembly, real-estate speculations in reconstructed Kabul, afterlives of former secret prisons, diasporic translators in theaters of war, and forgotten histories of Afghan modernists, artists and intellectuals.
Her films & installations have been presented by Documenta 13, IFFR, CPH:DOX, transmediale, Lincoln Center, MoMA, and the Liverpool, Sharjah and Gwangju Biennials, and are in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim among other museums.
She co-wrote Afghanistan: A Lexicon with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and co-created the Afghan Films online archive with Pad.ma. WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is her first feature.
Alysa Nahmias is an award-winning director/producer and founder of Los Angeles-based production company Ajna Films. Nahmias’ debut feature Unfinished Spaces appeared on Netflix, PBS, and HBO Latin America, garnering a 2012 Independent Spirit Award and numerous festival prizes. Nahmias’ credits also include producing Unrest (Jury Award, Sundance 2017); Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClercq (NY Film Festival 2013, Berlinale 2014); Shield and Spear (Hot Docs 2014); and No Light and No Land Anywhere (Jury Award, LA Film Festival 2016). Her work has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Venice Biennale and MoMA. She is a 2019 Sundance Momentum Fellow.
WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED by Mariam Ghani will be part of the Archival Constellations program of this year’s Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival.