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72 min. Dari.

What We Left Unfinished is about five never completed films made between 1978 and 1992 before the backdrop of the various communist regimes that came to power in Afghanistan. Scenes from these films, some of which later reused in other works, are edited together with current footage of their locations and commentaries by the filmmakers and actors involved in the productions, allowing us to dive into action films and romantic dramas that revolve around local histories and conflicts. By talking to the filmmakers, Mariam Ghani reconstructs how they pursued their passion for film in the face of censorship and danger. Even if it was not possible to make films critical of the regime, the directors developed methods that enabled them to continue realising their projects. A contradictory picture of the visions of the state thus emerges, lying somewhere between politically commissioned works and the aspiration to reflect reality. In this way, a panorama of Afghan cinema is opened up in which reality and fiction, historical facts and national myths, artistic experimentation and propaganda all become interwoven. (Sandra Schäfer)

Mariam Ghani was born in New York, USA in 1978. She earned a degree in Comparative Literature from New York University and a degree in Photography, Video & Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She works as a visual artist, writer, teacher and filmmaker, and has produced or co-produced a number of short films and multiple-channel installations, transmedia projects, live cinema events, exhibitions, conferences and discussions. What We Left Unfinished is her first feature-length film.

Afghanistan’s lost history

I first visited Afghan Films, the national film institute of Afghanistan in Kabul, in 2011. The films in their archive had survived the civil war, the years under the Taliban, and the invasion of the country by the US army and their allies. The inventory was in disarray and the film footage in bad condition. Since then, I have frequently visited the film archive and worked with Afghan Films and other partners to preserve, re-catalogue, digitise and make these films available. WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED was born from that long, complicated relationship, made up of equal parts affection and frustration.
It all began with an irresistible rumour: apparently there were unfinished films in the archive. For me, an unfinished project is like a loose thread in history. Pulling on that thread led me on a five-year journey, though not nearly all the insights gained along the way made it into this feature-length film. As I reassembled film fragments, and also people who had been separated by war, I realised that the process of making the film was mirroring a larger process happening in Afghanistan, whereby the fraught, unsettled, and contested histories of the Communist period are gradually surfacing into public discourse. But certain facts are still easier to face when presented as fictions.

Gaps, omissions, contradictions
WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED is about narrative films that often blurred the line between documentary and fiction: real soldiers enact fictional sieges, prop guns shoot actual bullets, staged events have real consequences. Similarly, my film explores the space between film and history, ideals and reality, and between Afghanistan’s past and its present. Ultimately, it is also a film about the stories left untold, about the contradictions and omissions in the stories both people and nations tell about their pasts. On a formal level, I highlight these gaps, matching archival film footage with images of present-day locations. In doing so, I discovered uncanny correlations between archival footage and interview audio recordings.
After we put 90 Afghan films online in 2012, I have frequently screened and written about them. I have repeatedly noticed that the Afghan films from before the war leave a deep impression on audiences. Becoming aware of the lost history of Afghan modernism, liberal society, and leftist intellectuals allows the audience to develop new perspectives on the Afghan present and future, as well as on the country’s relationship with the West. My film also has this potential. It is based on the extensive knowledge about Afghan film and Afghan history I was able to acquire through countless hours spent in the Afghan archives, endless discussions about events that no two people remember the same way, and the intimate estrangement of second-generation exiles who are also the ultimate political insiders. (Mariam Ghani)

Production Mariam Ghani, Alysa Nahmias. Production companies Indexical Films (New York, USA), Ajna Films (Los Angeles, USA). Director Mariam Ghani. Cinematography Adam Hogan. Editing Ian Olds. Music Qasim Naqvi. Sound design Mariam Ghani. Sound Stephen McLaughlin. With Latif Ahmadi, Said Miran Farhad, Hosain Fakhri, Juwansher Haidary, Wali Latifi, Faqir Nabi, Yasamin Yarmal.

World sales Wide House
Premiere February 09, 2019, Forum

Photo: © Indexical Films/Afghan Films

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur