Thursday, August 22, 2013

Freedom Photographers in Afghanistan

Alexandria Bombach travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan last year, and says she’s never experienced more hospitality. Bombach, a 27 year-old filmmaker and former Durango resident, went to Afghanistan in search of stories to tell, and came back with a gem: the blossoming, and endangered art of photography in the war torn country.

Bombach shooting in Afghanistan. photo by Mo Scarpelli
Now she’s trying to return to the country, with a Kickstarter campaign to fund, “Frame by Frame” her first feature film project, with another adventurous female cinematographer Mo Scarpelli.       

Bombach credits her time in Durango for her sense of adventure, and career in film. A 2008 graduate of Fort Lewis College, she started making videos late in her collegiate career and worked as an intern at Osprey Packs, over in Cortez, where she was introduced to the outdoor industry. Shortly after she founded the production company Red Reel films, which will produce “Frame by Frame”. In 2011 Bombach hit the road with her popular short film “23 Feet”, about people who live simply in order to follow their outdoor pursuits. She’s been on the road ever since.

“After I left Durango I was never in the same place for more than three days that year,” Bombach says. “I lived out of an Airstream trailer for a while, and now I just live out of my suitcase.”

While working on a series of short films about movers and shakers of social and environmental change called MoveShake, she came across some rough footage of the streets of Kabul. A light bulb went off: she wanted to make a film in Afghanistan. “We as (civilian) Americans only see the perception of the country through one media lens,” she explains. “Mo Scarpelli and I wanted to go down there and make a character driven film.”

Although she was nervous and didn’t know what she would find Bombach booked a flight to Afghanistan and found her characters within the community of photojournalists. Photography was banned in the country from 1996 to 2001, while Afghanistan was under the rule of the Taliban. Now, it is everywhere in Kabul. However with the planned troop withdrawal at the end of 2014, accompanied with inevitable withdrawal of the international media, it is uncertain what will happen, and if the Taliban might regain control of the country and the media.

 “The situation in Afghanistan changes everyday,” Bombach says. “A lot of Afghans say it’s going to be fine after 2014, but there’s also been a huge reliance on the Western media for jobs. People that help the Western media are seen as possible targets for the Taliban. No one really knows what is going to happen.”

The uncertainty is all part of the process, according to Bombach. “We knew we would focus on a character driven film, and we knew we wanted to tell a human story, not a media driven story.”

In “Frame by Frame” they are focusing on four Afghan photographers, among them Najibullah Musater, a man in his fifties, who illegally shot photography while the Taliban was still in power. “He is this person who is just like our Dad, a great wonderful human being.”

Other characters include Farzana Wahidy, one of the only female Afghan photojournalists, and Massoud Hossaini, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

While filming in Kabul and the surrounding areas Bombach dressed in the traditional clothing of the region: wearing a scarf over her head, and a long dress. She described the area as wonderful, with a strong sense of hospitality. “Everywhere we went people were inviting us in for a cup of tea,” she shares.

Still, she felt the reality of violence that is still prevalent in Afghanistan. While shooting footage in a mosque in Kabul during Eid (their holiday similar to our Christmas) a suicide bomber attacked another mosque in the country where 40 people died. “That was an eye opener, it was only the second day we were there,” Bombach shares. “But with filmmaking I have to keep my eyes on the prize. There’s a quote from journalist, Sebastian Junger, ‘the only time you are afraid is when you don’t have something to do,’ that holds true for me.”

After returning to the United States, Bombach and Scarpelli realized they needed more footage to give “Frame by Frame” justice. They turned to Kickstarter, a fundraising website, that offers various rewards to backers, based on the donations they make to the project. Contributions can be as little as one dollar. They set a goal of $40,000, which must be met by Thursday, August 29th. The outpouring of support has been more than encouraging so far.

 “It takes a community to make a film,” she says. “Kickstarter is great to reach that community, and interact. In addition to donations we’ve had people contact us to provide music and other services.”

If all goes as planned Bombach and Scarpelli will travel back to Afghanistan for five weeks later this year. “The support from Kickstarter will allow us to get back there and film,” Bombach explains. “All the money will go to production costs, it’s a really expensive place to film.”

While the story evolves and changes, Bombach’s goal remains the same. “If this film changes one person’s mind for the better about Afghanistan, then it will be all worth it.”

To watch the trailer for “Frame by Frame” and support the Kickstarter campaign visit:

This story appears in today's Durango Telegraph. 

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