American portraits of foreign wars usually rely on the work of curious journalists, but “Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi” gains distinction for showing the people who make it possible for such work to be done. These “fixers,” aids to traveling journalists responsible for helping them wade through the culture, enable much of the American reporting currently taking place in the Middle East. The documentary focuses on the tragic fate of a promising young fixer whose talents could have led to a successful journalism career of his own, if he had not been executed by the Taliban in 2007 at the age of 24.
Director Ian Olds captured Naqshbandi’s fixer talents when he worked with reporter Christian Parenti during a trip to Afghanistan for The Nation. These behind-the-scenes peeks at the fixer’s role in journalistic endeavors contain a palpable degree of tension once we learn of Naqshbandi’s gruesome death. The fixer’s smart, likable personality reinforces the harrowing nature of his demise.
Olds smartly avoids trying to broaden Naqshbandi’s story to make a broader portrait of the war in Afghanistan, instead focusing on the particular details of the fixer’s kidnapping and why his government neglected to save him. The infuriating outcome found Naqshbandi’s current client, an Italian journalist, gaining rescue while Naqshbandi remained behind. Afghanistan essentially allowed the innocent fixer to die. Combining verite of Naqshbandi with the details of his capture and execution create a fascinatingly immediate reflection of the country’s misaligned priorities. Meanwhile, the movie contains an extra dimension to the fixer’s work that their clients rarely know about: As Naqshbandi guides Parenti through the country, his discussions with various locals are translated in subtitles that Parenti obviously did not have available at the time. This allows us to see the whole picture, understand the entirety of Naqshbandi’s work, and fully recognize that he deserved a longer life.