15 Sep 2016

A Flickering Truth: NZ doco submitted for Oscars

From Nine To Noon, 9:43 am on 15 September 2016

Auckland filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly's documentary about efforts to preserve Afghanistan's film archive, is New Zealand's submission for the Oscars next year.

A Flickering Truth was filmed over three years and follows three men who dedicated themselves to protecting, preserving and restoring thousands of hours of film footage from Afghanistan's cinematic past.

The film will be submitted to the Best Foreign Language category.

Despite stories that the corrupt owner of Afghanistan's film archive was known to request large amounts of money to access the films, Brettkelly's persistence helped her to do what would have been considered impossible for others to even dare to do.

After numerous conversations, Brettkelly was finally granted access to the archive. Fortunately for her, the old corrupt owner of the Afghanistan Film Archives had been pushed out and there was a new owner who was willing to work with her saying, "Let's discover them together."

There were 8,000 hours of undocumented films, some dating back a hundred years, that had been disintegrating horribly after being neglected by the Taliban. The films were not stored to survive the harsh weather, lack of constant power and damaged infrastructure in Afghanistan.

There is a scene in A Flickering Truth where Brettkelly is interrupted while she was filming, part of a ceiling in one of the rooms had been torn away and two films were discovered that had been hidden away from the Taliban.

Brettkelly recognised the Champs-Élysées in Paris in one of the films, while in the other a man who had studied in Russia recognised the Tsar of Russia, which helped them date it to 1915. 

Brettkelly's team discovered Afghanistan's films had once been diverse in their scope, featuring scantily clad women, cowboys, Bollywood styles and many other subjects that wouldn't be acceptable now. 

It took Brettkelly two and a half years to capture the energy of Afghanistan. She kept herself grounded with two rules; no foreigners and no soldiers as she wanted the film to be about the people.

Afghanistan's history has been hijacked by war and invasion and she says she hopes the film will reveal a tranquil past about which many have forgotten.