After all the military and colonial interventions in Afghanistan over the centuries, one thing we can conclude is that the place is not easily subjugated. That doesn’t seem to have stopped various countries having a go. The problem is that the more you try to suppress a movement the more it hardens up. The Taliban have not disbanded or lost influence. Australia of course is implicated at a national level in this conundrum as we still have some presence there.
This is the backdrop to Benjamin Gilmour’s remarkable little film which has just played in competition at this year’s Sydney Film Festival and is also in competition at the upcoming CinefestOZ in WA.
Gilmour travelled in the country and mixed with both local people and Aussie soldiers. The heart of his screenplay was going to be about a soldier serving in Afghanistan who had shot a civilian and who had later traveled back to somehow make amends with the family of the victim. Gilmour cast the actor Sam Smith in the lead role.
They then went to make the film on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is where the story of the film rather overtakes the film itself. Whilst they were filming, the crew was receiving rumours that ‘various groups’ were none too happy about the project. This then escalated to death threats and the possibilities of IEDs being planted in the caves where they were shooting. Standing on the stage at the SFF for a Q&A, the director seemed quite relaxed about this in retrospect, but it clearly wasn’t a joke at the time. For those interested, Gilmour has just written a bestselling paperback about the making of the film called Cameras and Kalashnikovs.
The film itself is short and effective. Some will find it a moving anti-war piece. The look of the film is quite arresting; the large dusty vistas are contrasted with urgent hand-held, up-close action sequences. The acting and the plot have to take a back seat somewhat, but given that they had to improvise some of the story and sequences under extreme pressure this is understandable.
As noted, this film has a very particular provenance. To say that the back story is more interesting than the film would be dismissive. However, when the back story is this interesting and integral, it is more the case that they can work together.