Documentary Retroview: SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN 1959-2012 – (2006, 2012)bauman

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A Heartbreaking Look At A Devastated Nation

There seems to be no end to the strife and anguish experienced by the people of Afghanistan during recent history. Except for a brief period of peace and democracy, the nation has been subjected to continuous foreign influence and invasions, civil war and discord that have maimed the Afghan people and threatened their culture.

Shadow of Afghanistan covers the nation’s history from 1959 to 2012, presenting on overview of developments that are extraordinarily entangled and complex.

A Primer on the History of Afghanistan

The film is quite a comprehensive study of Afghanistan’s history. It integrates the work of two independent documentary filmmaking teams, both of which were involved in long term investigations about modern Afghanistan. Each team was intent upon bringing into focus and shedding light on specific events and developments that were precursors to and culminated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers.

A Tribute to Lee Shapiro

Filmmaker Lee Shapiro, who set out to show what horrors were being inflicted upon Afghanistan and its people during the Soviet invasion, remained in the country after he and other journalists were warned that they were in grave danger. While traveling to find and interview one of Afghanistan’s moderate leaders in his rural headquarters, Shapiro and his cameraman, Jim Lindelof, disappeared. They were reportedly caught in a fire fight between Soviet troops and the Mujaheddin. While their deaths were announced, their bodies were never found.

Filmmaker Jim Burroughs, in Afghanistan to work on a documentary about refugee camps, found the story of the Afghan people so compelling that his coverage expanded to include other aspects of the nation’s devastating circumstances. He and Shadow of Afghanistan‘s co-director, Suzanne Bauman, were friends of both Shapiro and Lindelof, and kept their deceased colleague’s project alive. They used Shapiro’s footage in Shadow of Afghanistan, which focuses in part, on Burroughs’ accompanying Shapiro’s former colleague and crew member, Dr. Carmen Zuniga, on her return to Afghanistan to try to locate the filmmaker’s last remains.

The Dangers of Field Research

The film, which also features Burroughs actively engaging in difficult on site investigations — at one moment narrowly missing an encounter with Osama bin Laden and at another interrogating locals about the presence of Arabs in the area — is also an account of the dangers journalists face in covering conflicts.

During his many journeys to Afghanistan, Burroughs is accompanied and guided by Wakil Akbarzai, a high-ranking member of the National Islamic Front, who translates during interviews and offers his own very compelling commentary about Afghanistan’s culture and travails. It is especially moving to see him return to his family’s home, and not be able to actually approach it because of the danger of possibly stepping on a landmine.

Another sympathetic voice is that of Fatima Gilani, daughter of National Islamic Front leader, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gilani. Gilani, a credible source of information about Afghan tradition and culture, clearly holds the Taliban responsible for the repression of Islamic precepts of equality that pertain equally to women and men, but also holds Soviet and Western politicians — including Americans — at fault for failing to fulfill promises of aid, relief and education for the Afghan people.

Horrifying Images of War

Shadow of Afghanistan opens with alarming images of toddlers playing with bomb casings and other detritus of war. And, throughout the film, Burroughs and Bauman present a catalog of heartbreaking images of Afghan men, women and children whose bodies have been ripped apart by the cruelty of invading forces and by opposing factions in interim civil wars, and blown apart by landmines scatters over the landscape and not, to this day, retrieved and disarmed. The images make Shadow of Afghanistan an extremely effective plea for the end of war as a viable resolution to political differences in Afghanistan — or anywhere else in the world, as well.

Shadow of Afghanistan had its premiere in 2006, but was updated for its 2012 DVD release.

Film Details:

Title: Shadow of Afghanistan
Directors: Jim Burroughs and Suzanne Bauman
Premiere: Tribeca Film Festival, 2006
DVD Release Date: March, 2012
Running Time: 82 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Location: Afghanistan
Language: English and Afghan dialects with English subtitles
Distribution Company: Cinema Libre

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