Getting to Know the Filmmakers Behind “Far From Afghanistan”

Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition brings together the work of five accomplished, politically engaged filmmakers united by the common cause of bringing back one of the longest wars in American history back into the public consciousness.  What follows is a brief introduction to each filmmaker as well as links to interviews, reviews and other website to help further continue exploration of filmmaker’s individual bodies of work.


John Gianvito – My Heart Swims in Blood

"The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein"

John Gianvito’s film work is marked by a fierce and dedicated political engagement and a commitment to expose and explore American histories that have remained surprised or unspoken, causing Michael Sicinski to comment that Gianvito’s work “issues from an uncompromising drive for social justice.”  2001’s The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a sprawling three hour drama that examines a group of disparate American citizens grappling with the aftereffects of the first Gulf War, was not only critically acclaimed, but Jonathan Rosenbaum has written that “it’s hard for me to think of another [film] that’s more personally important to me.”  The observational documentary Profit motive and whispering wind was also critically hailed, receiving multiple awards, including “Best Experimental Film of the Year” by the National Society of Film Critics.  A director, professor and curator, Gianvito has stated that “he can’t imagine making films that aren’t politically engaged on some level.”


John Gianvito’s IMDb page

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein and Profit motive and whispering wind.

Interview and reviews by Michael Sicinski at Cinema Scope.

Additional interviews at Fanzine and The Village Voice.

Analysis of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein at Senses of Cinema.

Review of Profit motive and whispering sound at The Moving Image Source.

Jon Jost – Empire’s Cross


Jon Jost is an iconic independent filmmakers most famous for his acclaimed 1990 feature film All the Vermeers in New York, but his film work currently spans fourteen feature length and twenty short films.  Jost has described his filmmaking as an attempt to be “in some manner… politically/socially/morally charged,” with the intention to “provoke the viewer to thinking/feeling outside the norms which our society sets up, with the hope that this will lead to some consideration/improvement, some social and self-awareness.”  A self-taught filmmaker, in the 1960’s Jost spent over two years in prison for burning his draft card and refusing to serve in the Vietnam War; after his release he became engaged with various political and anti-war movements , and helped found a politically engaged filmmaking collective and distribution group in Chicago.  His work explores a variety of forms, including film essays, avant-garde experimentation, and installation work, and he has been a strong proponent of digital cinema since 1996.  Jost has received numerous awards for his films, including the inaugural “John Cassavetes Lifetime Achievement Award” from the IPF/West.


Jost’s official website.

Jost’s IMDb Page.

Jonathan Rosenbaum reviews a retrospective of Jost’s work.

Interview from the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.

Some thoughts on political cinema by Jost at Senses and Cinema.

Minda Martin – “A Long Distance Operator”

minda martin freeland

Minda Martin is a filmmaker and professor whose documentary and narrative films have received critical acclaim and several festival awards.  Exploring issues of poverty, class, and social disparity in America, her lauded documentary Free Land (2009) examines her family’s history, including her grandparents’s experiences in the forced Cherokee Relocation in the 1800’s.  Her other films include the Love, Loss, & Longing (2007) and the feature documentary AKA Kathe (2000).


Martin’s official website.

Martin’s IMDb page.

Travis Wilkerson – Fragments of Dissolution


Inspired by the tradition of “third cinema” that integrates political engagement with the experimentation with cinematic form, Reverse Shot has declared that Travis Wilkerson’s films manage to “break the Gordian knot that has rendered so much of American filmmaking utterly immobile… locating a politically committed American cinema.”  Wilkerson’s best-known film is the documentary An Injury to One (2002), a documentary investigation Wilkerson describes as an “agit-prop essay” on the lynching of union organizer Frank Little in 1917, and his other films include the experimental Who Killed Cock Robin? (2005), a found footage compilation of public domain work for the National Archive series, and Accelerated Underdevelopment (2003), a documentary on renowned Cuban propagandist Santiago Alvarez who Wilkerson met and has since proved a profound influence on Wilkerson’s work.  In 2009, Wilkerson presented Breaking Ground a live multi-media event at Sundance Film Festival, described as the festival’s first presentation of live performance art.  As well as being a filmmaker, Wilkerson is also a professor of film at Emerson College.


Wilkerson’s IMDb Page.

Wilkerson’s analysis of Alvarez’s Hasta la Victoria Siempre (1967) at Senses of Cinema,

Review of An Injury to One at Reverse Shot.

Soon-Mi Yoo – Afghanistan: The Next Generation

soon-mi yoo dangerous supplement

Soon-Mi Yoo, whose work has been described as “intricate” and “carefully and intelligently designed,” works in multiple types of media, including film, photography, stext, and installation work.  Her films, which include Pink (2011), Dangerous Supplement (2006), ISAHN (2004), and ssitkim: talking to the dead examine marginalized and alternative histories by experimenting with the boundaries of essay, fiction, and documentary modes of filmmaking, and her photographs of WWII Comfort Women survivors are collected in “Comfort Women Speak: Testimony from Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military.”  Soon-Mi Yoo has received multiple fellowships, awards and grants, including the Rockefeller Foundation’s Media Arts Fellowship in 2006.


Soon-Mi Yoo’s IMDb Page.

Analysis of Yoo’s cinematic style at Cognitive Zest.

Robert Todd – 10 Years and Counting

rayning robert todd

Robert Todd’s filmography includes a large number of experimental films that have been showcased in film festivals, museums and film archive programs throughout the world.  Ranging from several minutes to half an hour, Todd has described his films as “celebratory explorations” on subjects that catch his personal interest.  In addition to his experimental work that defies traditional categorization, Todd is also an acclaimed sound designer, working on projects as disparate as NOVA programs for PBS to documentaries (such as For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2009)) to more mainstream fare such as Swimming With Sharks (1994).


Todd’s Official Website.

Todd’s IMDb Page.

Reviews of Todd’s films at Strictly Film School.

Introduction and Notes from A Night with Robert Todd at the Harvard Film Archive.

Pacho Velez – 10 Years and Counting

razsa_bastards of utopia

Pacho Velez is an independent documentary filmmaker with a particular interest in telling personal stories that convey larger political issues.  His films include the documentaries Occupation (2002), Orphans of Mathare (2003), and Bastards of Utopia (2010), co-directed with Maple Razsa with whom he has created EnMasse Films, a partnership specifically committed to making politically engaged documentaries.  Velez’s work has screened at a variety of international film festivals, and prizes he has received include the Prize for Humanitarian Filmmaking from the New England Film Festival.


Velez’s IMDb Page.

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