“Be careful that they don’t think we are terrorists”   – Massoud Houssaini

In most places around the world, a photographer can tape the word PRESS to their back and be somewhat free from danger. In Afghanistan, however, an Afghani member of the press has much to fear. They can be mistaken for insurgents, and become the target of security forces, or they can be seen as undermining insurrection, and become the target of groups like the Taliban. It’s almost enough to make an Afghani photographer keep their lens cap on at all times…


FRAME BY FRAME is the story of a brave group of men and women in Afghanistan who have formed a new class of photojournalist in a post-9/11 world. They are telling the story of this ever-changing nation from a very unique perspective: its own. Between the war against the Soviets, and the rise of the Taliban, entire generations went by in Afghanistan with little homegrown photographic evidence. Now, in what might just be another brief respite between conflicts, local journalists are doing all they can to tell all sides of this tumultuous time in their history…and risking life & limb to do so.

Directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli are doing something special with this beautiful doc – they are telling the story of the storytellers. Often times, people pick up a camera because they don’t want to be in front of it. The paradox is the way they then never become a part of the story they are trying to tell (think about who takes most of your family snapshots, and how they are seldom in the photo). The difference is that the women and men in this film are doing something deeply important. They are – as one so eloquently puts it – “Lighting up the dark corners of reality”. They are earning a place in their own story, and deserve to have the world know their names, their stories, their wishes, and their fears.

At the forefront of the story are Farzana Wahidy and Pulitzer Prize–winner Massoud Hossaini. This married couple are both photographers, and while there is a competitive streak between them, they document their world in very different ways. Hossaini seems to continually search for Afghanistan’s beating heart; continually running into the hottest spots and knowing that his responsibility is to tell the story no matter how awful that story may be. Wahidy, meanwhile, is after the nation’s soul. She points her lens at the corners that risk being forgotten, and the communities that never get talked about in the first place. She is especially interested in telling the tale of Afghani women, and takes that as a point of pride and responsibility.

Their photographs are always powerful, risky, evocative, and most of all – beautiful. There is something ineffably affecting about the way the photographers documented in this film are taking full advantage of this moment to tell their tale, and likewise reassuring in the knowledge that these images cannot be destroyed by the next bloodthirsty regime that might take over.

FRAME BY FRAME is a stunning film. It takes advantage of a moment where some doors in the Middle East have opened, but shows that many remain shut. One only hopes that more doors don’t start closing in the near future, and that this isn’t the last we hear of these courageous and inspiring storytellers.


FRAME BY FRAME plays at Hot Docs 2015 today, Wednesday April 29th – 3:45pm at The Lightbox. It plays again at Hart House on Saturday April 2nd – 7pm. (official website)