A Flickering Truth
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, August 2016
It’s fair to say we don’t hear a lot of positive news out of the Middle East nowadays, with Afghanistan long since the misconstrued poster boy for Terrorism and latterly taking up the mantle of Small Foreign Country Beleaguered by Bigger Foreign Military Intervention. One might assume, therefore, that a documentary would focus on the wars and inner turmoil, perhaps even glorifying Allied troops who remain there in a reconstruction or training capacity.
But not this one. Instead, A Flickering Truth takes a slightly gentler yet far more fascinating tack, following a native Afghan filmmaker (once exiled and now resident in Germany) as he goes to great lengths to restore previously hidden or damaged films which have been unearthed since the Taliban destroyed these crucial aspects of the country’s cultural history. (Cinephiles watching as they disinter ruined reels of goodness-knows-what will be appalled at the outrageous loss. “They killed the films,” one witness says helplessly of the Taliban’s ruthless art-burning. “The films bled into the ground.”) Discovering astonishing archive footage of presidential visits to the United States and early Afghan movies (complete with belly dancing beauties and distinctly non-Taliban-endorsed activity), these gems depict a very different side of Afghanistan than we’re used to.
Local director Pietra Brettkelly (the terrific Maori Boy Genius) delivers an original perspective of the horrors of war, and it is heart-warming to see remarkable footage of happier times and surprising historical moments. Stunningly sound-tracked and beautifully photographed, A Flickering Truth couldn’t be a more apt vessel for its subject matter.