By Justine Kraemer, GAC Volunteer Writer
This year’s opening film at the 2022 Guelph Film Festival was Fazila Amiri’s And Still I Sing. Amiri was a part of a post-screening Q&A event at this year’s Festival. The documentary uses music to tell a story of devastation, heartbreak, and overcoming adversity. With Afghanistan in the spotlight after the Taliban takeover, this is an important story to highlight. This documentary presents itself as a meditation on the power of women, and how they are the background of communities around the world.
And Still I Sing highlights Afghan pop star and activist, Aryana Sayeed as she mentors up-and-coming music stars on the hit TV show ‘Afghan Star’. As the first two contestants are poised to be the first women to win the title, the Taliban re-take control of Afghanistan. What follows is a journey through Afghanistan at a crucial moment, and the women who are impacted every day by this reality. These women are on the cusp of massive professional and artistic success before everything comes crashing down around them.
It’s hard to emphasize how topical this story is. There’s a renewed focus on Afghanistan, and in particular the plight of the nation’s women. There are so many inaccuracies in the news and on social media. Many white saviours believe that they understand the crisis facing Afghanistan’s women. And Still I Sing manages to cut through the noise and tell a deeply human story. This is the angle that the mainstream media misses. Stories like these are often used as sob stories to tug at heartstrings. This is a much more authentic interrogation of what the reality is for the women of Afghanistan.
It’s effective to show this crisis through the eyes and experiences of individual women. It makes everything feel far more devastating, as opposed to pulling back and showing the general destruction caused by the Taliban coming back into power. This is the piece that so often gets missed in any geopolitical crisis, that actual people are impacted. And Still I Sing balances this focus on individuals with showing a nation at a crossroads. So often, it’s overwhelming to simply show the scale of the destruction with no further context. In this story, we get to know these women on a deeply personal life.
And Still I Sing also emphasizes the fact that there has always been a strong activist movement, focusing on the rights of women in the country. The women the documentary introduces are far from damsels in distress. This is a strong rebuke against white saviorism, and stories that position the global west as the only thing that can save women around the world. Even before the Taliban re-took power in Afghanistan, it’s evident that Afghan women have always taken control of their own destinies, whatever obstacles they face.
The documentary also features music as activism. Art , and music in particular, has always been a critical tool in fighting for human rights. Aryana Sayeed has a vast following across the country, and around the world. Sayeed’s music, and ‘Afghan Star’ clearly bring so many woment together. In a society that has a rich history of art and music, regardless of how it’s been censured, these artists share in this beautiful legacy. The footage of ‘Afghan Star’ is just proof of how much this music speaks to people, and how it serves as a unifying force.
Finally, this story is very much a meditation on the concept of belonging. Some of the women featured were refugees before returning to their home country. After everything they had endured, they always returned home. It’s sickening, to see people uprooted from their entire lives. This is the experience of so many across the world, that we rarely get to see. There’s no hyperbole when this documentary spotlights just how devastating this experience is.
And Still I Sing is a triumph, and a sobering wake-up call. In addition to spotlighting incredible women and artists, it’s a reminder that Afghanistan is an actual place, with actual people. The country isn’t just a soundbite on the evening news. This story is the human face of a crisis that too many of us in the west get too comfortable believing is a world away. The story is a closer look at how art and music have always been lifegiving forces.
The 2022 Guelph Film Festival ran from November 14-26, 2022.