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Rob Edelman: Frame By Frame

Here in the United States, a free press is an accepted fact of life. A reporter can research a story and an editor can print that story, however controversial, while a writer can offer an opinion in a column on an editorial page-- and this can be done without fear that those they are accusing or exposing will use their power to permanently silence them. Of course, however, such is not the case in other parts of the world: a sorry reality that is emphasized in FRAME BY FRAME, a sobering, illuminating documentary that has just been released theatrically.

FRAME BY FRAME is set in Afghanistan, and the journalists it highlights are photojournalists. But first, a bit of history: Once upon a time, when the country was lorded over by the Taliban, recording images was strictly prohibited. Even those snapping innocent family photos would be jailed, and even these images would be destroyed. But when the Taliban lost its power fifteen years ago, the rules changed-- and photographers now were free to click their cameras as they pleased. Still, however, they often did so at a steep price.

FRAME BY FRAME tells the stories of a quartet of Afghan photojournalists. While each is an individual with separate interests and personalities, they are united in their quest for truth. They are linked by their determination to keep snapping away because they understand that the images they capture will have an impact on their culture. In other words, they employ their cameras as storytellers, and they are determined to present-- and demystify-- their homeland.

As we are introduced to them and as their stories are told, issues come to the fore. And they come in the form of questions. For instance, how can westerners, and western journalists, really know what is going on in Afghanistan? What issues are at stake? Who are the Afghan people? What are they really like? Additionally, with regard to photojournalists, how do the images they record separate truth from hype, from propaganda? So in this regard, cameras become weapons. For after all, in different parts of the world, some people must fight just to feed themselves, just to be able to make it through a cold winter. How will those outside the culture know this? Only through the recording of images, and the dissemination of images...

At the same time, these photojournalists are human beings, and so how will they respond when they find themselves capturing images of war, of horror, of the aftereffects of a bomb exploding in a crowd? Also, gender comes into play here. Another issue dealt with in FRAME BY FRAME is the controversy surrounding the photographing and documenting of women, and the oppression of women. 

Cinematically-speaking, FRAME BY FRAME has its flaws. Some of its footage and commentary are repetitive, and thus are unnecessary. But this film is well worth seeing and considering because of the importance of its subject matter. Ultimately, FRAME BY FRAME stresses the value of a free press, and the value of visually documenting a culture. As one of its subjects pointedly notes, “Photos are a part of human life.” And also, “If a country is without photos... that country is in fact without identity.”

Rob Edelman as written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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