Here is an outstanding film from the New Zealand director that starts off slowly, but builds into a revelatory document about and its current travails. Its unlikely vehicle is the attempt to restore and rescue the Afghan film archive in Kabul, trashed by the Taliban in a religiously inspired frenzy. Afghan film-maker Ibrahim Arify, living in Germany, returns to take command of the project, exhibiting visible frustration at the backwoods ways of his compatriots’ – both the finagling day labourers and the ingenuous Isaaq, the aged caretaker who lives in the office.
As we delve into the shattered remains of the archive, Brettkelly builds a ghost-mosaic of Afghan history, from the monarchs who oversaw the gradual liberalisation of the country through most of the 20th century (and introduced cinema), to the successive revolutions and civil wars that left the country in chaos. Film, it becomes clear, has a special role here: as repository of history and culture that the Taliban’s year-zero mentality aimed to abolish. Even as the political situation becomes more volatile in the run-up to elections – prompting Arify to hastily leave the country – the remaining archives head out into outlying provinces to enable screenings of old films for a population that has grown up largely in ignorance of such things. This is moving, powerful stuff.