“Frame by Frame” Review (*****)

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Farzana Wahidy in the documentary “Frame by Frame.”

“Frame by Frame” is an elegant and symphonic documentary tribute to the empathy and integrity of the photojournalist, and it might be the most impactful documentary of my generation.

In a country once ruled by a regime that criminalized photography for half a decade, directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli weave together the ground-breaking work of four photojournalists capturing the aftermath of a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

“When a country is without photography, it is without identity.” —Najibullah Musafar

Right from the opening credits—a sampling of Afghanistan’s history and imagery—I felt I was about to have something unveiled to me; a light would be cast, and I would be enveloped in a world that wasn’t my own. It was a powerful feeling, a human one; palpable, and entirely mesmerizing—and it didn’t let up the whole way through. When I did take a moment to look around the theatre, everyone’s gaze was transfixed, and it wasn’t just because there was a big bright screen in front of them. Everyone was feeling it.

This kind of human experience is, in my opinion, the life-blood of photography, cinematography, and photojournalism; throughout the course of this film, they’re trying to teach you why it matters. The film is highly educational in this regard; Najibullah Musafar, an educator, teaches photography to his students, and his lessons play out on-screen through other photojournalists’ stories. This was a superbly smart and innovative play by the filmmakers. We understand what we’re seeing, what it means, why it’s captured the way that it is, and what these lessons intend to do.

From within this deeper sense of understanding, we meet the film’s other subjects and join their individual, personal journeys. 
Wakil Kohsar—a novice photojournalist who believes “a photo can lead to change,” and that photography can shine a light on the darkest corners of reality.

Massoud Hossaini—a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who feels a great deal of inner conflict over winning an award for capturing a deeply painful moment in time, despite knowing the importance of doing so.

Farzana Wahidy—Hossaini’s wife and a fearless champion for women in Afghanistan in telling their stories and capturing their experiences on camera. It’s an endeavor that incurs tremendous challenge, requiring Wahidy to stand her ground, fight forward, and look inward for strength.

“I wanted to show the bombers those photos, and just see what they felt about it. 
What if this was your wife, children?” Massoud Hossaini

Each of these photojournalists triumphantly and fearlessly tackles subjects and issues that I believe most of us wouldn’t otherwise know how to comprehend. Koshar delves into the heartbreaking realities of heroine addiction, illuminating individuals who get lost in the shadows of society; Hossaini visits with the family of one of his photo’s subjects—a young girl who lost seven family members (including her seven-year-old brother) to the suicide bombing of Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul; and Wahidy, in an effort to give a voice to the voiceless, interviews a young woman scarred for life—both emotionally and physically—by the hands of her husband and in-laws.

Attempting to summarize all this film brings to light is exceptionally difficult, and I can in no way do it justice. Bombach and Scarpelli created something here that I believe should be a main-staple of every photography, cinematography, and photojournalism class until the end of time; without a doubt this film will inspire a new generation of photojournalists, furthering its importance. For anyone who identifies themselves as a photographer, a cinematographer, or any form of filmmaker, this film is to your education what a mentor would be.

“Frame by Frame” is currently screening at festivals, theaters, and campuses internationally; a full listing of upcoming screenings can be found here. It has two showings, right here in Georgia, at the Savannah Film Festival on Monday, October 26th at 3:30PM and Friday, October 30th at 8:45AM.

Search, follow, and find this film wherever you can.

5 out of 5 stars.

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