Official Selection, 2019 Berlin International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2019 Sheffield Doc/Fest
“There is a beginning but no end.” While working on a long term project to digitize the precarious archive of Afghan film, Mariam Ghani came across the ultimate cinematic black hole: five unfinished feature films–part of a trove of Afghan Films negatives bricked up for safekeeping behind a poster of Mullah Omar. Forced to shut down during the whiplash of Communist Afghanistan’s turmoil from 1978 to 1991, the films had completely escaped late-stage state censorship, becoming a rare capsule of unmanipulated footage. For Afghan American artist and filmmaker Ghani, archives act as the repository of a collective imagination, which in turn dance with nation-building; and so, these reels testify to many alternate Afghanistans–secular, resistant, heroic–existing at least once in history, in an unfinished film.
Filled with jaw-dropping stories of filmmaking under duress, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED tracks the afterlives of these films and filmmakers navigating the state’s mutual and contradictory quest to impact the collective Afghan imaginary. The camera wanders the faded elegance of the nation’s former film headquarters, interviews grizzled directors and actors, and briefly brings to life multiple scenes from the lost films. Here, these haunting incompletions become an open container for strange reminiscences of reality blurring with fiction: film shoots turned wartime shootouts, scripts taken straight from military intelligence, live ammo on set with deadly consequences, along with accounts that disagree as often as they illuminate.
With wild swerves from communist leaders who took starring roles and opened their coffers to Taliban regimes that decimated hundreds of films, WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED probes Afghanistan’s turbulent history of interrupted regimes through the peculiar lens of movies that never happened.