On June 7th 2010, the US war in Afghanistan surpassed Vietnam, at 104 months, as the longest war in US history. Launched in October 2001 as “Operation Enduring Freedom” this fall will mark one decade of involvement in a war that has seen at least 2,300 Coalition military deaths and over 10,000 wounded. Meanwhile, US-led forces have killed thousands of Afghan civilians, with 2010 the deadliest year thus far.
What do the people of Afghanistan have to show for ten years of war and occupation? Average life expectancy there is barely over 40 years. 700 children and 60 women die each day from hunger and lack of health care. The illiteracy rate is running at 70 percent in the cities and up to 99 percent in the countryside. Only a quarter of the population has access to clean water and just 10 percent have electricity. According to the UN Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the most underdeveloped non-African country in the world.
But while the war grows ever more costly, news coverage within the US about the war in Afghanistan has declined to its lowest level since the warʼs launch. In the most recent congressional elections, the war barely registered. And Hollywood movies, of course, have little or nothing whatsoever to say. And yet, while the media turn away from the gruesome reality of war, polls indicate 63% of Americans oppose the war and want our involvement to cease. And as Tunisia and Egypt have recently reminded us, even the most dormant of people can suddenly re-awaken and change the course of history…
Inspired by the 1967 collaborative undertaking, Far From Vietnam (Loin Du Vietnam), that united a variety of filmmakers, cameramen, editors and technicians “to knit together imagery of the war, interviews, intellectual styles, fictional incursions and documentary footage in a bid to counter and interpret the intensive media coverage and propaganda manipulated by the American government”, Far From Afghanistan strives to contribute to the international effort to redirect US policy away from military and political intervention toward true humanitarian and developmental care-giving (if and when requested). Bringing together some of the boldest and most politically-progressive U.S. filmmakers to speak from within the war machine, alongside contributions from native filmmakers throughout Afghanistan, Far From Afghanistan will examine through a mosaic of approaches – issues of shared responsibility, history and memory – all in a concerted effort to help accelerate political resistance to the war.
The 10-year anniversary of the start of the war – October 6, 2011 – underlines the urgency of our goals, and elevates the opportunity to rally for change. In service of this moment, we presented Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition - an online streaming event that took place for one week only beginning October 6, 2011. This unique edition featured works-in-progress from our dedicated team of filmmakers who have been working tirelessly to realize their contributions to the final film, to be completed in 2012. We extend sincere thanks to all who watched, shared, and discussed The October Edition on our site, and also on Fandor.com.
Far From Afghanistan seeks to generate vital dialogue around the war and the broader ways that US foreign policy impacts people here and across the globe. In so doing this, we hope to foster partnerships and collaborations with individuals, groups, and organizations at home and abroad. Most centrally, the project plans to connect with and provide assistance to humanitarian organizations with aligned missions, both in Afghanistan and domestically. Please help us in spreading the word and don’t hesitate to reach out.
My Heart Swims in Blood
While Afghanistan burns, America fiddles… a mosaical journey through a dark night of the soul.
As fog descends upon the landscape, a man attempts to lull himself to sleep. Across the nation, Americans embrace their pleasures. 7000 miles away U.S. and coalition forces leave behind a trail of death, destruction, and profound resentment among many of the people of Afghanistan. Business as usual. A tirade and indictment against a decade of slaughter and occupation, and the “fruits” of American exceptionalism. With André Gregory.
John Gianvito is a director, teacher, and curator based in Boston. Gianvito’s 2001 feature The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a three- hour dramatic exploration of the United States during the period of the first Persian Gulf War received the Jury Prize at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, the first “Rosa Luxemburg Prize” and Best Independent Film at the New England Film/Video Festival. His 2007 film Profit Motive and the Whispering wind received considerable acclaim, earning 8 awards including “Best Experimental Film of the Year” by the National Society of Film Critics, and was cited on various Top Ten lists including in Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Cahiers du Cinema, and Cinema Scope. Gianvito’s latest documentary, Vapor Trail (Clark), a four and a half hour exploration of the impact of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines, past and present, had its premiere at the 2010 Rotterdam International Film Festival and was cited as one of the Top Ten Films of the year by critics in both Film Comment and Sight&Sound.
Empire’s Cross is a completely poetic evocation of the circumstances instigating America’s attack on Afghanistan, its methods, and of the deeply seated cultural origins of Western culture’s tendency towards warring. As an (ironic) counter-point it uses President Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech (1961) and an earlier speech (1953) “Cross of Iron” as a foil. Ironic, as Eisenhower was a much glorified general and a Republican in politics; today he would be deemed a radical leftist for his words in those speeches.
Born in Chicago to a military family, he grew up in Georgia, Kansas, Japan, Italy, Germany and Virginia. He began making films in January 1963 after being expelled from college. In 1965 he was imprisoned by US authorities for 2 years 3 months for refusal to cooperate with the Selective Service system. Self- taught as a filmmaker, he made his first full-length film in 1974, and has since that time focused on a wide range of American issues in his films. Since 1996 he has worked almost exclusively in digital video, completing twelve features and many short films. Among Jost’s most recognized works include, Speaking Directly: Some American Notes (1973-75), Bell Diamond (1986), All The Vermeers in New York (1990), and The Bed You Sleep In (1993) among others.
The Long Distance Operator
An experimental narrative film short about a drone pilot in Palmdale, California who learns about the impact of his role in the war in Afghanistan from on-the-ground soldiers. I was compelled to volunteer my time to contribute a film that could give Americans a way of thinking about their own distance from the war in Afghanistan. The idea for the story came from US Army war veteran, Ethan McCord, who testified about the impact of an aerial strike that killed several innocent civilians in Baghdad. Placing McCord’s testimony in the context of the pilot’s screens (available on Wikileaks), I came to see parallels with how Americans have been experiencing this war. I explored these feelings with the actors, all of whom are war veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Minda Martin is Director and Producer of personal documentaries and narrative films that explore the underpinnings and disparities of social class in America. Her films, including a.k.a. Kathe (2000) and Monsoon St., ’77 (2006), have won awards and screened at international that include Viennale, Punto de Vista, New York Video Festival, New York Museum of Modern Art, RedCat, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, MOSTRA, Athens International film/video festival, Frameline Lesbian and Gay film festival, and many more. Her most recent film is a personal historical documentary that examines what it means to be constantly looking for opportunity in America. In Free Land, she uses family history of homelessness and displacement to reveal how the search for free land has geographically and psychically uprooted people, created social inequalities, and left legacies of emptiness. Currently, she teaches in the Department of Communication at California State University, San Marcos.
Fragments of Dissolution
Fragments of Dissolution is a poetic, anguished cry from the heart of a rotting empire. Four women describe their own unique hells. Children, brothers, and friends burned alive while simply trying not to freeze. Husbands and sons deployed over and over, who kill themselves rather than fighting again. From Ft. Lewis to Detroit, the empire is devouring its own intestines.
A chance meeting in Havana with legendary Cuban film propagandist Santiago Alvarez changed the course of Travis Wilkerson’s life. He now makes films in the tradition of the “third cinema,” wedding politics to form in an indivisible manner. His best-known work is an agit-prop essay on the lynching of Wobbly Frank Little called An Injury to One. His other films include Accelerated Underdevelopment (on the filmmaker Santiago Alvarez), Who Killed Cock Robin?, and the National Archive series. In 2007 he presented the first ever performance art at the Sundance Film Festival with Proving Ground, a live multi-media rumination on the notion of technological prowess outstripping our moral and ethical development. His work has screened at scores of festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Toronto, Rotterdam, Marseille, Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, Hot Docs, Vienna International Film Festival and Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. His latest film, Distinguished Flying Cross had its world premiere in April at the Cinéma du Réel Film Festival where it received the International Prize.
Afghanistan: The Next Generation
They said the Korean War was a “Forgotten War.” Is sixty years enough time for a war to be forgotten? But then how is it possible for the American War in Afghanistan to be forgotten when it’s still unleashing death and destruction? I too am guilty of forgetting. This film is my small gesture against forgetting. It incorporates various forms of archival footage – military, news, amateur and fiction– from different historical moments and seeks to expose the hypocrisy of the American occupation. Propaganda turned against itself.
Korean-born Soon-Mi Yoo works with various media and genres, including photography, film, installation and text to explore marginalized histories. Her work has been exhibited at festivals internationally, including Oberhausen, Pompidou Center, New York Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and Seattle IFF, and galleries across the country, including the International Center of Photography and Boston Center for the Arts. Her films include Pink (2011), Dangerous Supplement (2006), ISAHN (2004), ssitkim: talking to the dead (2004), faith (1999), Do Roo (Circling Back, 1994). Her photographs of the Comfort Women (victims of sexual slavery in the Japanese “rape camps” during WW II) survivors are published in “Comfort Women Speak: Testimony from Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military ” in 2000. “When I encountered the Comfort Women survivors in 1998, they taught me to focus on specific personal experiences and memory and to pay attention to the meaning of silence in the historical narrative… By crossing the boundary between documentary, personal essay, and experimental film categories, I seek to disorder the standard narratives of history and to produce an alternative telling. Through uneasy juxtaposition of fragments, the layers of memory reach for the power of feeling. It opens up a space of imagination where it is possible to make connections between personal experience and public memory, historical perspective and private suffering.” Soon-Mi Yoo is a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Media Arts Fellowship, a fellowship from the American Photography Institute, the Corcoran Alumni Award for Excel- lence, and the National Asian American Telecommunications Association Grant.
Rob Todd, Pacho Velez
Ten Years and Counting
“Ten Years and Counting” is a specially-designed prologue available for viewing as part of Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition, only. It aims to offer a brief but important glimpse of the emotional and material reality of life, and death, over the past decade in Afghanistan. Three-quarters of the images are drawn from imagery gathered by the “Afghan Voices” group and will be seen more expansively within the final version of Far From Afghanistan. More about Afghan Voices
In the past twelve years he has produced a large body of short-to-medium format films that have been exhibited internationally at a wide variety of venues and festivals including the Media City Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Le Rencontres Internationale, Black Maria Film Festival, Nouveau Cinema in Montreal, Cinematheque Ontario, the Harvard Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive, the Paris Biennial, Slamdance Film Festival, and others. His films have won numerous festival prizes, grants, and artist’s awards. He has taught film production at Boston College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Art Institute of Boston, University of Massachusetts, and the Boston Film and Video Foundation. He has also worked as editor, sound designer/editor, post-supervisor or music producer on various award-winning broadcast and theatrically-released media programs.
Pacho Velez is a documentary filmmaker and teacher. He is interested in personal stories that help to illuminate greater political issues. He is proud to have worked for the Service Employees International Union, for whom he co-directed a documentary about service workers at Harvard. His films have screened at Silverdocs, the RIFF, and the Telluride Indiefest. His films have won the Best Documentary prize at the Ivy Film Festival in 2003 and 2004, as well as a Prize for Humanitarian Filmmaking from the New England Film Festival. In 2006, the US Department of Education awarded him a Javits Fellowship. In the fall of 2010, he began teaching filmmaking at Harvard University.
The Production Team
A graduate of Boston Universityʼs School of Management, Steve Holmgren is a New York City-based film producer and programmer. Steve previously worked in production at HDNet Films (Redacted, Bubble, Broken English, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Steve has also worked in international sales, primarily dealing with documentaries for Cactus Three (loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies, Devilʼs Playground, Sketches of Frank Gehry). He also worked with Gartenberg Media Enterprises in distribution, specializing in avant garde and silent cinema. Steveʼs produced Matt Porterfieldʼs Putty Hill, which is currently in theaters. Most recently, he produced Marie Losierʼs The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a documentary on pioneering musician-artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV), which won the Teddy Award for “Best Documentary” at the 2011 Berlinale and also screened South by Southwest, Tribeca and HotDocs. Originally from Minnesota, he is currently the programmer at the Brooklyn cinema/arts space UnionDocs.
Mike Bowes has extensive experience as a Producer, Line Producer, Production Manager, and Production Coordinator. Splitting his time between independent feature films and PBS documentaries that feature dramatic reenactments he gets great joy from creating productions that strike a balance between lean and ambitious. Mike is co-founder and director of Central Productions, the Boston based film production support organization whose mission is to advance the emerging film community and to contribute alternative bodies of work within the culture of the moving image. While getting his B.A. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he was the President of its Film Society and the organizer of the Five College Film Festival. Mike has also served as the Board Chair of the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA’s nationally-recognized repertory cinema.
John works at the intersection of strategy, messaging, and design for forward-thinking organizations and media ventures. He is a founding partner of Forward Mapworks – a strategic consulting firm using whole systems mapping. As Senior Strategist for Free Range Studios – a media and innovation shop famous for the viral video series The Story of Stuff, John helps clients shape platform development, brand identity, and integrated outreach, as well as working to design successful transmedia content and distribution platforms focused on storytelling to stimulate conversations that lead to positive behavioral and systemic change. John spent over a decade working in feature film and television production, serving in a variety of roles including, producer, director, production manager, art director, and development strategist, and has worked for maverick producers Christine Vachon (Killer Films) and Ted Hope (Good Machine, This Is That), among others. John has also worked as online marketing director for start-ups, and as integrated marketing manager for Conde Net (the online division of Conde Nast). John earned a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI).
Matthew Yeager (Production Coordinator)
Originally from Texas, Matthew Yeager is a Brooklyn-based director, producer, and writer. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Film/TV program, Matthew has most recently worked as publicity coordinator for BAMcinematek, the repertory film program at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the oldest performing arts center in the US. Matt has worked in production on independent feature films (HBO Films’ Angel Rodriguez), TV shows (Comedy Central’s Stella), documentaries, music videos, and short films.
Theater director and documentary filmmaker. Pacho is interested in personal stories that help to illuminate greater political issues. He is proud to have worked for the Service Employees International Union, for whom he co-directed a documentary about service workers at Harvard. His films have screened at Silverdocs, the RIFF, and the Telluride Indiefest. His films have won the Best Documentary prize at the Ivy Film Festival in 2003 and 2004, as well as a Prize for Humanitarian Filmmaking from the New England Film Festival. In 2006, the US Department of Education awarded him a Javits Fellowship. In the fall of 2010, he began teaching filmmaking at Harvard University.
In the past twelve years he has produced a large body of short-to-medium format films that have been exhibited internationally at a wide variety of venues and festivals including the Media City Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Le Rencontres Internationale, Black Maria Film Festival, Nouveau Cinema in Montreal, Cinematheque Ontario, the Harvard Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive, the Paris Biennial, Slamdance Film Festival, and others. His films have won numerous festival prizes, grants, and artist’s awards. He has taught film production at Boston College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Art Institute of Boston, Univer- sity of Massachusetts, and the Boston Film and Video Foundation. He has also worked as editor, sound designer/editor, post-supervisor or music producer on various award-winning broadcast and theatrically-released media programs.