WHY ARGUE 2023: Russia’s Brain Drain, the Women of Afghanistan and a Rapidly Changing Industry

Niels Van Deurs
Rachel Sheary
April 6, 2023

How pervasive is Putin’s Propaganda, and what impact will Russia’s ‘brain drain’ have on the country? Do stories need to be hopeful to gain an audience willing to engage, and what does the future look like for the women and girls of Afghanistan? How has the documentary film industry changed - for better and for worse?

Last month WHY ARGUE tackled some big questions during three fourty minute talks in collaboration with CPH:DOX. We welcomed five guests to discuss some of the most topical issues in journalism and storytelling with the hope of sparking some interesting discussions and gaining new perspectives.

#1 - How Pervasive is Putin’s Propaganda?

Propaganda does not indoctrinate people with specific ideas - it destroys their faith in truth. The message that people get is that everybody lies and there is no truth in the world.

- Gleb Bogush, Professor of International Law

To kick things off, we were joined by former Professor of International Law at Moscow Unversity Gleb Bogush and host of the popular DR podcast Moskva-Kontoret Morten Runge. Gleb gave us an insight into the long term impact of Russian propaganda and how it has changed since the invasion of Ukraine, and what the future might hold for the countries’ universities in light of a mass exodus of anti-putin academics.

#2 -  Mette Hoffmann Meyer Unfiltered: Reflecting on a Changing Industry

 “I do believe that if you touch people’s hearts you touch their minds. Of course, you can make structural movies about politics and history where there are not a lot of emotions, but I think if you do contemporary stories about people, about systems, you have to have some emotions attached - something that upsets you, makes you want to get engaged, to understand.”

- Mette Hoffman Meyer, Executive Producer and CEO of The Why

Documentary mogul Mette has been spearheading the industry for over 30 years, and has watched it change and develop along the way. With the help of some industry colleagues, she reflected on how the industry has evolved, how difficult it has become for some filmmakers to get their films out there, shared some of her industry regrets and a couple of those infamously catchy film titles she has become somewhat renowned for. 

“When making a film, you should always aim to entertain. That is something that many documentary filmmakers forget.”

#3 - The Women of Afghanistan: Do Stories Need to be Hopeful to be Heard?

I can feel from people who I work with that they're longing for me to bring that bit of hope into the story. How do I deal with that - do I give it? Do I find it? Do I hold it back? That's something I actually think about a lot in my work.

- Nanna Muus Steffensen, Journalist 

On the anniversary of the Taliban’s shut-down of education for girls, Cavling-winner Nagieb Khaja (Taliban Land, My Afghanistan) and Afghan-based journalist Nanna Muus Steffensen (New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic) reflected on whether stories need to be hopeful to be heard, and how to approach this as a storyteller in the context of Afghanistan. Both Nanna and Nagieb have been primarily based in Afghanistan for their work, and share the confliction of how to communicate the stories of the Afghan people - particularly the women and girls of the country.

I actually personally feel the urge myself to focus on hopeful events and personalities who bring hope into my stories, despite everything being pitch black - totally dark, with no rays of light. 

- Nagieb Khaja, Filmmaker

For those of you who couldn’t make it to WHY ARGUE, you can now watch all three talks on YouTube! 

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