Fwd: Re: Archive (07) Mariam Ghani: Overflow, Reserve, And The Unfinished In Afghan Films
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I'm Mariam Ghani. I'm an artist, a writer, a film maker and in the past 10 or so years I have also become somewhat of an accidental archivist.
I'm here to talk to you about a project called What We Left Unfinished and the ways in which it has both come from work with pad.ma and is now also being deconstructed into another additional annotation of the original project done with pad.ma.
So here's where it began.
This is a collection of 90 years of films from the state archive of cinema in Afghanistan, Afghan Films. Its also the the state film institute, which Shaina, Ashok and Faiza Khan and I put up online after a very intensive 2 week workshop at Afghan Films at the invitation but also as part of the Documenta seminars in 2012. It wasa very quick and dirty digitsation workshop, where we just quickly chose as many films as we could find that represented different genres and different kinds of moments within the history of film in Afghanistan, and in the life of this particular institution.
...And got them up as quickly as we could and then annotated them as deeply as we could within that time, by gathering together people who had worked on those films.
So what came out of this for me was another project. But I just wanted to kind of first show you how we... at the kind of end of this telecine workshop we actually did a mobile cinema screening which was initiated by riding through Kabul in a truck, inviting spectators to come see a mobile cinema screening in what's known actually as the Cinema Park, the park next to the old cinema in Shahre Naw in Kabul, of film clips that were montages from the cinema workshop that we just conducted, which then ended up in this beautiful outdoor screening. After we had this interesting experience that Shaina and Ashok did, of riding through Kabul in a truck, calling to people to see... as the man on the microphone phrased it, "Historic films from Afghan Films. Come now, my countrymen, come now, come now, come now." The time of the archive is now - that's the sort of lesson of this.
So what I became interested in during the course of this particular project with the archive was a particular set of things that were missing from the narrative around the (?). Here I want to pause for a minute and talk to you about how different this particular archive is from the ones we were discussing this morning.
Obviously, this is a state archive. Its not a counter-state archive. Its not an archive from below. Its an archive that was very much constructed and everything in it was constructed through the will and desire of the government.
And in fact in relating to this archive, everything that we do with it has to be negotiated through a relationship with the state still. And the thing that has to be kept in mind when thinking about that is that all archives in Afghanistan, whether they are archives from below or above, are subject to the same conditions of precarity.
So when working with an archive in Afghanistan, you have to keep in mind the reality that films, books, monuments have all been burned within recent memory. That total iconoclasm was attempted in this country within recent memory. And there was a real desire to hold tight to the images that we have left.
So any address to an archive like this must be done very carefully, very slowly, very patiently, and as I have said, in a kind of slantwise shuffling manner where its like one step forward, two steps back, three steps sideways in this kind of very funny dance.
And the other thing that I think is important is that when you ask something of an archive like this, an archive that has in fact been threatened at different points in its existence, you cannot hope to get anything from them without giving them something back. I think that's a very important thing to keep in mind with an archive like this.
So I'm going to show you first a little bit of what I have been making with the unfinished films that I spent quite a lot of the last 5 years finding, which are unfinished films specifically from the communist period.
And I don't know how much you know about the communist period in Afghanistan, but someone mentioned 'ghosts of other stories' ... for me the communist period in Afghanistan is very much a time that is haunted by stories that are not told. Stories that lie in between the stories that people are willing to tell. And it also could be talked about as a tragedy about utopian leftists who seized state power and then were driven mad by it. And...those are different ways to kind of talk about it.
So let's look at a bit of this. This is my edit. This is very much my edit, of the words of these film makers, and actors and crew who worked on these films. And its a very dense edit actually. Those of you who saw the rough cut the other night know this is an even more dense edit than that, which itself is going to be even more expanded in the next cut.
But, what pan.do/ra and pad.ma offer is the opportunity to take this edit and deconstruct it back into a list. In our Dark Matter Tarot reading the other night the question that came up was "How is an Edit different from a List?"
One of my answers to that question was "How is a database different from an interface?" And what are the relationships between those 2 things?
So let me show you now a little bit of how I'm actually deconstructing this back into its database.
So this is the beginnings of putting the components of this film up onto pad.ma and having all of the footage which is all the excess, surplus of the film - everything - both, that is contained within it and everything around that was contained within it. Everything that doesn't correspond directly with what I'm looking for - these particular kind of ghosts and stories that I'm looking for - find a place also.
One of the reasons I wanted to do this was so much of what I discovered in these kinds of interviews I was doing related to the films we had put up 5 years ago. And I wanted to find a way to actually bring those relationships back into view and make them visible, also to other people in the way that they were immediately visible to me as I was sitting in those rooms listening to those interviews.
So here's also a kind of first pass at what that might actually look like. This is little bit of an edit of a longer, an elongated version of some of Engineer Latif's interviews, and also some of the material in Engineer Latif's interviews.
Edited version With subtitles:
Unedited with annotations and transcript:
What you're seeing on screen is Hafizullah Amin.
Yes, Hafizullah Amin was the deputy leader of the communist party.
...is a piece of kind of extraordinary footage wherein he actually... there was a re-enactment of the 1978 Afghan communist coup d'etat that was staged 3 months after the original coup d'etat which included the entire army re-enacting what they did on the day of the coup. And also Hafizullah Amin re-enacting what he did on the day of the coup. In fact he conceived the film and starred in it and the entire family also played themselves because they also had a significant role in the events of the day. He was under house arrest at the time.
And then after he was assassinated by the Soviets in '79, this film of course was cancelled and abandoned. And the footage somehow ended up in ... it went to Uzbekistan for colour processing. Some of this annotation you can actually see. Right here. If it loads. We'll see.
Some of this footage went to Uzbekistan for colour processing. And when it went to Uzbekistan for colour processing, 40 minutes of it never came back. And those 40 minutes were the 40 minutes starring Hafizullah Amin. Strange, right? Strange that the Soviets wouldn't want those to come back.
So the 40 minutes starring Hafizullah Amin actually ended up... I was looking for them for almost two and a half years and I ended up finding three and a half minutes of those 40 minutes in a film made by an Uzbek film maker named Malek Kayomav and this footage is from his...
Kayomav imposed on this footage a telling of the reuse of it. I mean now that you've actually seen some of this with legible subtitles, I'm going to go to the version of this where its actually been annotated and transcribed with a searchable transcript.
You can see here where the transcript even for the Russian parts has been... the subtitles have been turned into transcripts and then we've got ... everything I just told you is now in an annotation. So its preserved. All my little stories are actually in some place where other people can access them.
And then here we have another part of this. This is something that I'm not even going to use in my film at all because its not relevant to any of the unfinished films that I'm talking about. Its about a finished film, but it was a story that I really loved and it related to a film that we had digitised 5 years ago. Its about a film called Green Field.
Green Field clips:https://pad.ma/BQW/infohttps://pad.ma/BQX/info
This kind of extraordinary... its (?) of some of the correspondence files related to the film Green field in the Soviet archives. So its all the correspondence between (...) relating to this trip. None of which mentions this story, like why they went to Moscow to develop the film there.