Hot Docs 2020 (Online): Our Review of ‘The Forbidden Reel’

Hot Docs 2020 (Online): Our Review of ‘The Forbidden Reel’

The Forbidden Reel is a lot of things. The documentary shows Afghan directors regaining access to the objects that made their work possible. It is a history lesson on both Afghan cinema and history. It also investigates the lives of the people keeping Afghan Films alive, doing so despite their political pasts.

The Forbidden Reel is at its most insightful when it talks to other Afghan film directors. Some of those interviews are sit down, but there are other segments when the documentary accompanies those voices with visuals of Communist era Kabul. It does not need to show faces to make its audience feel the citizens’ fears.

The documentary’s other archive footage also shows the people fighting the Communists – the mujaheddin. Some filmmakers and cinematographers like Yusuf Jannesar discuss their reasons for defecting towards the latter. This shows that segments of that group understood cinema’s propagandist potential.

It also shows that yes, there is that divide between the urban Communists and the rural mujaheddin. But not everyone in the mujaheddin had the same political views, especially about movies. That examination falls within The Forbidden Reel’s aims to show Afghan films, and therefore the country, as one with multiple political viewpoints.

The work that those filmmakers produced during the 80s miraculously survived, deserving an audience. The are a lot of benefits in showing clips of those movies, but they overshadow the depiction of the work of preserving such films. Some audiences do want to see a version where both have equal screen time.

Regardless, one of the interviews discuss how lucky he is to see historical periods. The ones that the footage show is a palimpsest, these directors using anachronistic technology. This footage, then, exists as pieces of a puzzle, belonging to people who know of its worth.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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