Frame by Frame

Frame by Frame ★★★★

Honestly, I wasn’t all that excited to see yet another documentary summarizing the history of Afghanistan over the past fifteen years, one that’d probably assume I’m only interested insofar of my own country’s role in things since, or maybe it would sound a call to action for “change” in a situation a movie could never make me really understand. But Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, the directors behind Frame by Frame, haven’t made an issue movie, and they quickly humbled me for presuming that’s all this part of the world—and they as filmmakers—could say. They’ve captured a rare, vital, and fascinating moment in Afghanistan’s newfound freedoms; specifically, a freedom of the press, with the overthrow of the Taliban over ten years ago. That regime forbid any and all picture-taking; not just for photojournalistic purposes, but even the casual family photo. How our own self-created media defines and shapes us is something we easily take for granted, and without it, the case is made that an entire body of people were effectively erased from the international conscience. But now they’re experiencing a journalistic boom, and the film follows four photojournalists dedicated to documenting their world in all of its livelihood post-911. One of them is Najibullah, a professor of journalism with years of rich experience in the field, whose class lectures gradually morph into a sort of voiceover “review” of what sound photojournalism should be. Never feeling superfluous or condescending, these “lessons” work from a national context, essentially all students learning (or in some cases relearning) how to frame an image and how to present them as international news. Scarpelli and Bombach counterpoint these fundamentals through Massoud Hossaini, the Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist whose photo of a girl in green reacting to a suicide bombing caught the world’s attention in 2012. It’s an achievement that the film is more interested in the how and why—the ethics surrounding this kind of photograph—rather than as a final word or “happy ending” to Afghanistan’s burgeoning journalism. But the one who stands out is Farzana, the sole female photojournalist Scarpelli and Bombach include here, an individual who devotes her documentation to the overshadowed lives of Afghan women and girls. She gets access to people and places her male contemporaries do not, and where she can take the directors makes for the most painful, compelling content. There is still work to be done in Afghanistan, yes, work these journalists do with a rigor and ethic largely lost from our own country's reportage.

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