afghanistan

Buzkashi Boys (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Buzkashi Boys (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Sam French, Ariel Nasr).
Watched May 13, 2014.

Perhaps it was because of cultural differences, but I was pretty bored by Buzkashi Boys.  It was trying to make a statement about cultural differences, too.  Those of my generation are obsessed with the hashtag craze “#firstworldproblems,” in which one states something that is only deemed a problem in first world countries.  This film depicts the opposite of first world problems.  In fact, it is a story about a blacksmith’s son and a boy who lives on the street and how they both dream of a better life.

It is present day in Afghanistan and Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) doesn’t want to be a blacksmith.  He wants to hang out with his friend Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), an orphan who lives on the streets.  The blacksmith (Wali Talash) doesn’t want either of these things for his son.  He wants to teach him a trade and how to support himself when he is no longer around.  Rafi and Ahmad run off and witness a game of Buzkashi–a local sport somewhat like horse polo but involving a dead goat.  Ahmad dreams of leaving the streets and becoming a famous and successful Buzkashi player.

The short takes us around Afghanistan, giving a humanity to what us in outside countries likely only see on the news.  The boys explore what was once a palace but is now rubble.  We see a crowded street full of cars, shops, and people, where Ahmad sells whatever he can in order to get by.  Rafi’s home is small and dirty, but he has a lot more than his friend.

What is special about this film is that a team of international filmmakers have come to Afghanistan to teach the locals how to make films.  They want to educate them and encourage them.  I would say getting a project nominated for an Oscar is pretty good encouragement.

If we view this film as a project in filmmaking, it is certainly a step in the right direction.  If we view this film as an insight into the Afghani lifestyle, it can be powerful.  However, the story was lacking and listless.  Even though it was only a short, I felt that the story telling needed a lot more meat and direction to really be a success.  The character development was okay.  The filming itself was pretty good, and especially from a trainee director who has never been to school for the subject, it is very impressive.  I hope that he continues to pursue filmmaking and will bring his skills back to Afghanistan.

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Hell and Back Again (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Hell and Back Again (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner).
Watched February 2, 2013.

 

Hell and Back Again had me crying in seconds.  It is a documentary feature that follows a group of marines in Afghanistan in 2009.  Within minutes the team is on the ground and under fire.  As a warning, I would suggest that anyone who has a deployed family member not watch this film, and if extremely sensitive, I would also advise against reading this review.

 

One of my best friend’s husbands is a marine who was deployed to Afghanistan last month.  It is his second deployment since joining the Marine Corps and because he only got home in June of 2012, it was really hard to say goodbye to him again so soon.  Does it ever get easier?  Watching my friend go through such heart break while having the strength to continue life at home and attempt to nurture her relationship from such a distance is very inspiring.  It also brings a reality to the sacrifice our service members and their families make.  Because of this, the film was much more personal to me, magnified by the fact that it was a documentary.

 

The marines in the film were serving on the front line during one of the most violent times during America’s occupation.  Within minutes we see one of the marines get shot and then succumb to his wounds.  The marines are not only there to eradicate the Taliban, but they also want to protect the Afghani people and enrich their lives with commodities that we take for granted–running water and electricity being the most simple of examples.  The photojournalist, Danfung Dennis, shows both sides and can make firm believers in the cause wonder if the Afghani people actually want the help, especially after the marines occupy their homes for a time.

 

Dennis makes a bold choice to utilize the almost over-done non-linear timeline concept in his editing.  Sergeant Nathan Harris is shot in the leg on his second to last mission with the marine corps in Afghanistan.  After filming him and his company during the time he spent in Afghanistan, Dennis follows him home to show his rehabilitation process and the effects of PTSD on the Sergeant and his family.  The style of the documentary has very few interviews and instead usually lets the footage speak for itself.  As Nathan goes through the difficult process of recovery, his bouts of pain can often times be debilitating, which is why the doctors tale of caution is always about addiction to pain medication.  Whenever he is overcome by a wave of pain, Dennis takes the time to cut in another scene from Afghanistan, be it a firefight or a conversation with the Afghani people.  The difference between the two worlds of the marines is jarring.  The adrenaline, action packed, heart stopping moments in a ditch at the side of the road, and the slow and quiet moments at home while Nathan is undergoing physical therapy or braving an outing to Walmart.  The devastating opening scenes of the implications of war are furthered when Sergeant Harris, his wife, and the men he served with attend a memorial service in North Carolina for the thirteen who did not return home with them.

 

Although every documentary will be shot, edited, and shown through the lens of the director, Dennis does a very good job of staying out of it and letting what happens happen.  Although he has the choice between shots and he decides what story to tell, ultimately, his tale was very naked and honest.  It is something that I struggled to watch, but was also in a style that I greatly admire.  Interviews, if done in excess, can drag down a documentary and add a lot of opinions into the story.  Dennis’ style adds more freedom for interpretation.  It almost just lays it all on the table and says, “here, watch what our men and women go through.”  Although Sergeant Harris and his wife Ashley are only one story, they give insight into what many are not privy to, and what many might rather discard or forget.

Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesNY TimesThe GuardianAbout.com