Reel Asian 2019: Our Review of ‘What We Left Unfinished’

Reel Asian 2019: Our Review of ‘What We Left Unfinished’

Sandi Tan’s Shirkers was one of last year’s hottest documentaries; a lamentation on the failed cinematic dreams of a now no longer young Singaporean filmmaker. If Shirkers were to be multiplied to a national level as the lamentation of a nation’s lost stories, then perhaps it would like a little bit like Mariam Ghani’s new feature film What We Left Unfinished.

Ghani’s film is the story of five Afghani films that were left unfinished amidst the perpetual warfare and struggles of the aftermath of the Saur Revolution in the 1980s. Footage from the films is inter-spliced into interviews with the filmmakers. There are many long, ghostly tracking shots through the changed former shooting locales, which provide the film with a haunted air. The ghosts of the past are just as much a part of the past footage itself.

But the real strength of What We Left Unfinished is the “we” of this sentiment. The filmmakers themselves provide fascinating first-hand accounts of the trials and tribulations they went through. Anecdotes offering colourful details, such as discussions about how to shoot fight scenes without a dedicated choreographer, are fascinatingly engaging. It’s the true heartbeat of the film, like watching a graduate level cinematic masterclass in adaptive no-budget filmmaking for free.

The stories, however, are as harrowing as they are informative. The challenges faced by each filmmaker only serves to highlight just how important cultural expression is, and just how much damage one could do if they suppress it. One interview that I found deeply moving involved a filmmaker alluding to the necessity regarding lying about his involvement in a local production, instead claiming to Mujahideen rebels that he was a defector. Ghani’s film is a beautiful meditation on the power of art in a society. May we never forget our histories.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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