A Flickering Truth


A Flickering Truth had its world premiere in Venice last year and then went to Toronto – only the third time a NZ film has been selected for both festivals. As it goes on general release director Pietra Brettkelly talks about the journey.

How did you come to the story?
It was a hot day in May more than three years ago in Kabul and I was interested in finding out what had happened to Afghan filmmakers – people like me – during
 these decades of conflict. There was talk of a slightly mythical place where the films of Afghanistan were stored away but no one really knew what was there. So I decided to investigate.

I walked miles through Kabul, and was stopped often by security police to check my passport. I noticed there were a lot of helicopters in the air and soldiers on the ground that day, I felt a lot of tension, more than usual. I wondered if a suicide bomb had gone off that morning. The police kept telling me I couldn’t go into this high security area but I persevered and pushed through, sweating under my heavy layers of clothing, only my face showing.

Eventually I made it to the front gates of Afghan Film, the country’s archive collection. Initially I was turned away by the gun-toting security guards, but I pulled out the line, “I’ve come all the way from New Zealand to see your films”.

Finally someone came out and said okay, come and meet Ibrahim Arify, our new director who’s been employed to try and transform the archive and save the films.

Ibrahim agreed to me making a film on the rediscovery of what was in these sheds: the films that had survived the wars, the Taliban, the harsh conditions of Afghanistan. He said, “Let’s discover them together.”


In the past you’ve spoken about the challenge of getting documentaries funded. Is it getting harder or easier to secure funding?
It’s a privilege to have the career I have, to love every day and be following my passion, the stories that interest me, to remote locations and people. So nothing stops me from that – but yes its becoming more difficult. A Flickering Truth is my fifth documentary, so my reputation helps investors, funders and philanthropists feel confident I will deliver.

I appealed to family and friends who believed in this story, as well as to traditional funders. The film received support from the Film Commission and other organisations, including Doc Edge, the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund and Sundance Institute.

I also became a jewellery seller – I held 13 jewellery parties of the most exquisite Afghan jewellery designed and made in Kabul through a wonderful initiative that insisted that 50% of the students and workers must be female.



  1. You are a very brave and talented person who has chosen to find fascinating subjects in the most bizarre places.
    That your collaborator and Director of Photography – JAKE BRYANT has been with you throughout the adventures deserves equal recognition. His brillance shines with every frame of these films you have made.
    I know its a battle for anyone like you to achieve the making of and selling of the film, however …. I would like to acknowledge & endorse the contribution of the guy who creates the images. They guy who gets nothing for his work until it sells – like you ! The guy who lays his life on the line and foregoes life with his family to make the film, he believes in.
    With due respect to PBK and your commitment and vision, Jake Bryant deserves a major plug for his outstanding contribution and excellent cinematography in this work and all previous works where you have created innovatitive documentary stories together.

    Paul Richards 5 years ago Reply