WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED
F.: Adam Hogan. M.: Ian Olds. Mus.: Qasim Naqvi. Prod.: Mariam Ghani, Alysa Nahmias per Indexical Films, Ajna Films. DCP 4K. D.: 71’. Col.
I first visited Afghan Films, the national film institute of Afghanistan, in 2011. The films in its archive had survived the civil war, the Taliban years, and US invasion. But they were disorganized and on the brink of deteriorating. Over many visits since, I have worked with Afghan Films and other partners (National Film Board of Canada, EMPAC, Doha Film Institute) to preserve, re-catalogue, digitize, and disseminate those films. What We Left Unfinished was born from that long, complicated relationship, made up of equal parts affection and frustration.
It began with an irresistible rumor: the existence of unfinished films in the archive. For me, an unfinished project is like a loose thread in history – and pulling on that thread led me on a five-year journey that extends far past what is contained in this feature film. As I reassembled film fragments and people who had been scattered by war, I realized that the process of making the film was mirroring a larger process still happening in Afghanistan, whereby the fraught, unsettled, and contested histories of the Communist period are gradually surfacing into public discourse. […]
When my surviving great-uncles left the Pul-e-Charki prison under the Soviet amnesty in 1979, they saw their own names printed on the lists of the dead that were pinned weekly to the prison gates. To me, this story has always sounded like a cross between a dark fairy tale and an even darker Afghan joke – perhaps because certain facts are still easier to face when presented as fictions. And What We Left Unfinished is about fiction films that often blurred the line between documentary and fiction – real soldiers enacting fictional sieges, real bullets in prop guns, real consequences for fake events.
Likewise, my film plays on the gaps between film and history, ideal and reality, and past and present Afghanistans. It is also a film about the histories left untold: the contradictions and omissions in the stories both people and nations tell about their pasts. What We Left Unfinished was constructed to highlight these gaps, by matching archival film with present-day locations and finding uncanny resonances between archival images and interview audio.