________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


Afghan Chronicles.

Dominic Morissette (Director). Nathalie Barton (InformAction Producer). Yves Bisaillon (NFB Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
52 min., 33 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 0107 158.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**½ /4

Until recently, most Canadians had barely heard of Afghanistan. Its mountains make it a difficult place from which to eke a living, and, despite the establishment of a new constitution and the holding of National Assembly elections in 2005, it is still very much a group of tribal states. More than 70% of the population is illiterate, and amongst women, the illiteracy rate is even higher. Despite these daunting statistics, a ground-breaking group of journalists, Killid Media, is working hard to establish itself as a popular press, through a radio station and two weekly magazines. Afghan Chronicles is the story of their attempt to position themselves as change agents.

     Clearly, this is a society attempting to re-build itself in the face of huge economic, political, and social challenges. Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, is a city attempting to rise out of years of strife, and it is obvious that life is grim. One man comments that even the parks and leisure areas have been destroyed as a result of conflict, and that it is hard to find respite from the harshness of the chronic shortages and deprivations of a post-war society. Nevertheless, despite years of media suppression, journalists have a strong sense of mission and have found creative ways of conveying their message even to illiterate members of the population. They continue their work, despite facing considerable opposition for their coverage of controversial issues and the promotion of non-traditional causes and attitudes. Even at the best of times, it is hard to make a living in Afghanistan, and the journalists interviewed for this documentary are frank about the difficulties and dangers which they and their families face as they pursue the dream of a free and modern press. And always, government corruption and the possibility of Taliban insurgency heighten the precariousness of the current political situation.

     Knowledge and understanding of the history and politics of Afghanistan are absolutely necessary in order to situate Afghan Chronicles in its context, and that limits the film's use to senior years (Grades 11 and 12) classes in subject areas such as World Issues. Much of the content consists of authentic interviews of Afghani citizens, and some viewers might find the subtitling intrusive. Afghan Chronicles provides an interesting perspective on a society trying to re-build itself, but teachers considering its purchase should preview it to ensure that it works with their course content.

Recommended with reservations.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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