Carol Dysinger’s documentary “Camp Victory, Afghanistan” tells the story of several U.S. National Guardsmen stationed in Herat, Afghanistan and the Afghan officers assigned as their mentees. Together they’ve been tasked with building the 207th Corps of the nascent Afghan National Army into an institution capable of providing stability, peace and justice to a volatile nation. Although the United States has poured military aid into Afghanistan, money alone does not produce an army; people do. And these Afghans and Americans have more in common than anyone would expect. With lives on the line, can a modern Afghan army be created when 80% of the enlistees are illiterate; all are impoverished; the weaponry is second rate; and the enemy is elusive, dangerous, and lawless? [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW].
Camp Victory, Afghanistan
Director: Carol Dysinger
Producer: Carol Dysinger & Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
Cast: General Fazil Ahmad Sayar, Colonel (R)Michael Shute
Cinematography: Carol Dysinger
Editors: Mary Lampson & Mary Manhardt
Music: Sasha Gordon
Dysinger on how she got her start in filmmaking…
A million years ago I won a student academy award for a film called “Sixteen Down.” Frank Capra handed me a check for a thousand dollars, an oscar, and then said “Gosh, I wish I made that movie!” I can be forgiven if I thought the hard part was over. I started out as an editor, cutting rock videos for the Clash (Rockin’ the Casbah) and ended up cutting features and documentaries, but mostly documentaries. In the midst of that I worked as a screenwriter, and am still in WGA West, and still writing, but left that game a while back. It was fun, but eighties Hollywood was stressful.
On her approach to making the film…
I have always been a film maker, all that changes is what tool I am holding in my hand. I am also a great lover of history, and of our Constitution. My family has had a long legacy in and out and around the military. So, when Afghanistan disappeared behind the Iraq war, I suddenly found myself on a plane to Kabul.
It was something between a compulsion and a whim. People called it the good war, the necessary war, but after thirty some years of Viet Nam being our last war, what was that? I hate people telling me what to think. Everyone was all wrapped around hating or defending Iraq. And there was Afghanistan. “The Good War,” “Forgotten War,” The whatever War…
So I just went, and what I saw there is what prompted me to make the film. I had one goal, to figure out a way to make a film about what was going on there, without any spin. I wanted to find a story that brought the Afghan side home, I wanted to find something that did not make an enemy of anyone, but spoke about our exit strategy.
I filmed as a one man band, squeezing onto helicopters to get somewhere, finding my way around the country until I landed at the 207th corps of Herat. And then I just kept going back. Hundreds of hours of tape later, years later of visits, I had the trust of the Afghans, and the soldiers, and that is when the film took shape.
On the challenges of Afghanistan and being a first time director…
As difficult as conditions were in Afghanistan, how hard it was to move around, and to learn how to be on my own in the cities, villages and towns, and then go behind the wire to be with the military. Making the switch back and forth from total security (which was strangely more nerve wracking) and complete exposure (no westerner in a burkha will ever be mistaken for an afghan, ever) it was, if not fun, awake. I felt very very awake.
I felt some times like the little mermaid. The Americans were not allowed to leave the bases and my Afghan friends were in danger if they got near the base. So I would walk out the base gate with the soldiers going “Ma’am, Ma’am…” Or go onto the base with my Afghan friends very nervous about what would happen to me in there. All that was hard, but the hardest and biggest challenge was the editing.
My biggest challenge was being simultaneously a first time director and an editor who had had way too many jobs with first time directors. It was humbling. Very humbling. Everything that ever drove me crazy about a director, I did. Twice if not three times.
On why SXSW audiences will like “Camp Victory, Afghanistan”…
It’s about something very serious, but at the core, it is a bro-mance. You can take the girl out of Hollywood, but I am afraid you can’t take the Hollywood out of the girl. As I was struggling to make a film about war that did not fall to the conventions of a war film, I ended up making a serious, but funny bro-mance about our exit strategy in Afghanistan. Go figure.
I have never been to SXSW before. This is a big challenge. I am used to letting the film out of the boat and going back and getting another one. Suddenly I am the one who has to sell the film.
On films that have inspired her…
Heart and Minds is the bench mark, although my film is nothing like it. “Law and Order,” the Wiseman film, though my film is nothing like that either.
Fukasakus’s “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun.” In that they all attempt to bring humanity and nuance to people who we assume do violence for a living, and often do not.
On her future projects in the pipeline…
Right now there is no pipeline. I want to get this out and about. What I would like very much to do is a film called Rad/De-Rad. It would be the “Fast Cheap and Out of Control” Of radicalization. If you want to know more, call me. It is really really interesting.