“I am truly passionate about everything I do,” says New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly. “The risks I’ve taken in making some of my documentaries exhibit either passion or craziness.” On her website she goes on to admit that she has always been excited by stories that matter, the personal journeys that reflect a bigger issue, “and my Irish heritage has not only given me red hair but also a thirst for story-telling”.
With parents that took her everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Portugal and fostered within their daughter a wonder and appreciation for the diversity of peoples and their stories, it is no surprise that Brettkelly went on to make some of the most mesmerising documentary films of the last decade, and tonight’s film, A FLICKERING TRUTH is a beautiful example of her work.
The multi award-winning international director and producer’s self-funded 2008 film, THE ART STAR AND THE SUDANESE TWINS won the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award at Sundance Film Festival and screened in over 100 film festivals, and that kicked off one heck of a career. She has since been supported by the Sundance Institute, Gucci Tribeca Fund, BritDoc, the Binger Film Lab and the New Zealand Film Commission, and tonight’s doco, A FLICKERING TRUTH opened in competition at both Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. It is near flawless, and easily one of the most affecting documentaries that I have seen in a long time.
A moving portrayal of one man’s journey to restore thousands of hours of film heritage in post-Taliban Afghanistan, A FLICKERING TRUTH introduces us to Afghan film-maker Ibrahim Arify as he works incessantly to rescue the Afghan film archive in Kabul. After hearing that it was trashed by the Taliban in a religiously inspired frenzy, Arify, then living in Germany, returns to take command of the project. It is a tiring and thankless task at times, and we see the passionate filmmaker exhibiting visible frustration at the slow moving pace and attitudes of his compatriots. From the swindling day labourers to the naive Isaaq, the ageing caretaker who lives in the office, it appears that everyone is in some way conspiring against him.
As Arify starts to reveal to us the remains of the archive, the importance of film for Afghan history is a message that is impossible to miss. The archive is a place where the stories and culture that the Taliban has aimed to abolish can still survive, and even after Arify has to hastily leave the country, the remaining material is sent out into the provinces to enable screenings of old films for future generations. Film preservation has never looked so essential.
Brettkelly told Stuff.co.nz that for her, “film is the greatest vessel of our culture of the last 100 years and so to preserve it is so important”, and A FLICKERING TRUTH is a more than worthy testament to that.
A FLICKERING TRUTH premieres on Thursday 25 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
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