It’s not easy to describe George Gittoes.

Film maker. Painter. Performance artist. Keeper of illustrated diaries. So far so good.

Independent war artist and eye on the world in conflict. Yes, all that too.

Restless mind, inquiring nature, fearless pursuit of truth. Definitely all of that.

And yet you have to know Gittoes for a long time before the man’s extraordinary contribution can be understood in the fullness of its reality.

I’m planning to devote an extended post to Gittoes on this website,, quoting from the many interviews which I have had with him since our first meeting in 1995. Since that time, I have been fortunate to witness the unfolding of one of the most extraordinary and singular lives in art.

As a prelude to that effort, I’m posting an email which Gittoes sent to me and other friends from Kabul. I received it yesterday, and Gittoes has given me permission to reproduce it here. By reading the email, you will get a sense of the commitment, intelligence and empathy with which Gittoes travels to the most conflicted and violent places on earth. In the letter, Gittoes refers to Hellen Rose, the Sydney performance artist who is his partner. Here is the email.


Hi Friends,

Hellen and I are back in Kabul and still a few days from heading down the road to Jalalabad. There are always things to do here like securing our multi entry visas, but it is also the place to plug into the nerve centre and work out where this country is going. The streets are covered with election posters , mainly dominated by the face of Abdulla Abdulla who seems to be everyone’s favourite. Snow is on the ground from what people are describing as their toughest winter in memory, and the temperature is below freezing.

I have not been able to do much email as the internet is not working at Cedar House except, sporadically , through a cable which only Hellen’s computer will accept. Hellen is very sick with the flu.

This usually full guest house is empty . There may be four or five other guests and all are Afghan Nationals. There are no foreigners on the streets after the Taliban bombed a popular aid worker restaurant a few weeks ago, killing a large number of Internationals. No one is allowed outside. Kabul belongs to the Afghans.  Most of the beggars have disappeared because their foreign targets have gone. I have not seen a single American Military vehicle or person and there are only a fraction of the security guards outside businesses as before. The skies are clear of helicopters and military flights.

I do not know how the employees at this and other hotels will survive. None of the staff have been put off , including the guards at the gates, but there is no way they can be getting paid much from the few staying here. On all previous stays here – this area is called City Centre – there has been frantic building going on all around us. Most of the buildings are designed as tourist hotels or accommodation for foreign investors and workers. They all stand partially finished but empty . The optimism has gone and work dried up.

We visited the Australian Embassy and talked to the grey suits there. Their location is a semi secret so they do not become a target. Even though we have been telling them about the Yellow House for three years they still had not gotten it into their heads to try to develop a cultural assistance policy. They just wanted us to entertain them like exotic clowns from the jungle outside. I got very severe with them and tried some shock treatment statements to draw some emotion, but to no effect.

A couple of nights ago we watched the Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Bill Murray film THE MONUMENTS MEN  about a team during WW2 who were assigned to save the great works of art of Europe. They got the same kind of bullshit opposition – “culture is not important when soldiers are sacrificing their lives” to their efforts. We felt a lot of kinship with them and many of their script lines could have come directly from our mouths.

(Gittoes then discusses another film he watched — Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg. The character Wahlberg plays shows that he is “totally ignorant of the generosity of Pashtun custom – and gets more and more amazed these people are prepared to lay down their lives for his”.)

Hellen and I both realise we are surrounded by similar people at the Yellow House. None of them would desert us if attacked and (they would) die with us if need be. We love the Afghan people and are devoted to them and will see this through. Hopefully the Yellow House will survive for years to come.

I never have a clear idea of what my documentaries will be until I arrive and plug into the reality of the place. Snow Monkey will be a kind of Documentary Ghost Film. So many people  have died on the Afghan side, but as in LONE SURVIVOR  the sympathy of the world is with the returning soldiers – psychologically and physically damaged and mourning their lost buddies.  My film will give a face to the Ghost Town Afghanistan now is. The collatoral damage to the survivors of drone-Predator missiles, families and Afghan soldiers murdered by the Taliban insurgents from Pakistan, those killed and burnt by the  lone soldier madmen from the  US camp in Kandahar  and the victims of the crossfire.

Shahida, one of the cleaning ladies at our guest house, spent the morning telling Hellen how her husband was killed by the Taliban and she now has seven children to support. This is the memory of death mourned, but I fear my cameras will be rolling on a lot of fresh blood over the next year. At the moment there is calm but everyone is anticipating the violence that is building towards the elections and all predict it will escalate, after.

The segment I find most powerful and of which I am most proud , in all my films, is the Grey Mosque in Miscreants of Taliwood.  The old man cries “Blood ! Blood!” and we see the smoky spirits of the dead hovering above the shoes. This is my yardstick for Snow Monkey ….. it will be the Grey Mosque multiplied.

As we collect stories from the survivors of the violence of this war, I will begin to write up the Ghost Stories which will then be dramatised and intercut with the real . My play ‘The Afghan Book of the Dead’ was about the Hell of the American and Nato soldiers as they pass into the other side through death – this will be an Afghan Afghan Book of the Dead.

My fellow Afghan Film Makers at the Yellow House are inspired by this concept as it gives them a chance to help give faces to the lives lost that have  placed this whole country into mourning. As with Love City the new movie will be a team or collective  creation.

While the world is being told about the courage of the returning soldiers at medal ceremonies, our film is needed to remind people of Afghanistan’s loss and ongoing fear.

Everyone here , who I have known for some time , eventually asks if I know a way to get them a visa to Australia. They all want to escape what is coming.

Snow Monkey is going to be a lot harder to make than I thought and a lot more dangerous. It will not be a matter of waiting for threats to the Yellow House and responding to events outside its walls. I am going to have to go to the worst places, such as Kandahar and villages where drone strikes have occurred (Taliban country), to gather the stories and images. I will be well outside my relative comfort zone of Jalalabad.  I do not know if I really have the courage, strength and nerve to do it, but that is the plan. For the moment Waqar and I are working on adapting to our new cameras with their complicated digital systems … soldiers readying their kit and cleaning their guns. We are not wanting to be fumbling around with them when things get dark.


Lots of love ,


George G

Elizabeth Fortescue, March 3, 2014, Sydney