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The Forgotten War: Docs Go Back to Afghanistan

The Forgotten War: Docs Go Back to Afghanistan

If film trends have something to say about our current world, then we are in deep shit (Agnes Varnum’s recent post “USA vs. Freedom” offers further proof). Back in April, I was pitching around a story about the spate of films concerning Afghanistan. While Iraq dominates the headlines, with dozens of causalties reported every day, the slow slog in Afghanistan — the “forgotten war” — is quietly spinning out of control outside of the purview of many mainstream news outlets. This is, of course, where docs can come in handy.

At the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, I recently interviewed outspoken Afghan activist and recently ousted Parliament member Malalai Joya and filmmaker Eva Mulrad (“Enemies of Happiness”) for The American Prospect. Joya, who is under constant threat of assassination, spoke passionately about the current turmoil of her country, and how things are actually not that different since the U.S. invaded the country nearly six years ago, with warlords and criminals controlling the country and drug-smuggling at all-time highs.

I also look forward to the release of Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which closely ties Afghanistan torture practices with those at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Even “Beyond Belief,” a tear-jerker about 9/11 widows who travel to Kabul in the spirit of solidarity, rightfully returns the spotlight to the war-torn nation. I never saw two other Afghan films that played at the Tribeca Film Festival (“Zolykha’s Secret” and “Postcards from Tora Bora”), but it seems like a critical mass of Afghan docs is building. Hopefully, these works can help steer the media’s tunnel-vision from Iraq and Paris Hilton to the wider picture.

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Sean Flynn

Sometimes I think the mess we’ve left in Afghanistan seems even more of a shame than the mess in Iraq. The Afghan people were so exhausted and hardened by decades of war, oppression and poverty that they were truly ready for a change and many welcomed the Americans at first. But the promises we made to bring freedom, equality, and economic development have virtually all remained unfulfilled. The government is still corrupt, women are still forced to wear the burqa, cost of living in Kabul is skyrocketing and development agencies are slowly retreating as security deteriorates.

I spent two weeks in Kabul shooting “Beyond Belief” and met some of the most warm, generous and hospitable people I’ve ever known – people that wanted to believe in the benevolence of all-powerful America, but were beginning to cast doubts on our commitment to their country and five years of occupation and little results. I truly hope that we don’t let these people down. They have already survived 25 years of war, and they deserve a break.

If anybody is interested, Beth Murphy (the film’s director) and I have recently started a blog ( in which we hope to write a lot about keeping Americans engaged in the world through documentary film.

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