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by Cynthia Fuchs

25 May 2012


When the marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 8th Regiment enter Afghanistan in 2009, they’re told they’ll be enacting a “new” counter-insurgency strategy. Their commander names their essential contradictions. “Every interaction you have with the people is crucial,” he says, “We have to develop trust in them.” Strapping on gear and loading weapons, they are plainly “experts in the application of violence,” but they’re less equipped for developing “trust.” Within moments, these ideals are dismantled: a marine is badly injured, his buddies run him along a road, the camera jogging behind them. When the corporal dies, 26-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris steps up. He will be injured too, and Hell and Back Again, airing on PBS on 28 May, follows him home to North Carolina, where he struggles to find sense in what he’s done and how it plagues him. The film cuts back and forth, between the footage photographer-turned-filmmaker Danfung Dennis shot in Afghanistan over months and the diaristic scenes he shoots of Nathan home, talking to the camera, his wife Ashley, and his doctors. In pain and on medication, Nathan seems to be remembering what you see, but the documentary doesn’t pretend to know what he’s feeling. Instead, it observes and draws connections, scenes that show battles or Harris and his team breaking down doors or not quite conversing with Afghan locals, or more plainly showing the effects of action. These involve Ashley as much as Nathan: as she describes their journey as “to hell and back again,” you realize how they’ve paid, again and again.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

11 May 2012


In 2003, Dr. Qudrat Mojadidi went back to Afghanistan, again. This time, he was accompanied by his daughter Sedika Mojadidi, and her film crew. The doctor, who has a thriving OB/GYN practice in Virginia, had for 20 years been working along the Afghan border, helping those women he could survive childbirth, disease, and injury. Now, following the invasion and the temporary defeat of the Taliban, the US guaranteed support, asking the doctor to rehabilitate the Rabia Balkhi hospital, and most earnestly, wanting to “make a difference inside the country.” In her documentary, Motherland Afghanistan, premiering on Global Voices 13 May, Sedika Mojadidi narrates their journey with a mix of concern, confidence, and wonder. The camera looks out from their car window as they drive in, observing male street vendors, soldiers in uniform, women in burqas, children as the car slows in traffic. Repeatedly, Dr. Mojadid and his team confront impossible odds, from lack of funding to distrustful communities to fearful wives and daughters. Focused through the doctor’s witty, measured perspective, the documentary makes clear the successes and the hardships of his remarkable efforts (the death of a premature baby, its tiny corpse tended to on screen, would likely have been avoided had the proper resources been available). Telling a story that is at once intensely personal and acutely political, Motherland Afghanistan offers a trenchant critique of US policy. While, as the film shows and Dr. Mojadidi says, Afghans can do take care of themselves, some small sincere, well-considered, and organized help would go a long way.

See PopMattersreview.

Watch Struggling to Save Mothers in Afghanistan on PBS.  See more from pbs.

by Cynthia Fuchs

8 May 2012


“First of all,” Hillary Clinton tells a table full of women voters, “You never say anything that is interesting and they keep taking pictures of you and they keep recording you, and it goes on and on and on, in case you do something, I guess.” She’s wearing a headband and a gigantic gold brooch. And with that, the scene cuts to a TV interview with Gennifer Flowers: “He has wonderful lips,” she confides, “He’s a wonderful kisser.” Her makeup is perfect and her pink jacket is adorned with… a gigantic gold brooch. Ah yes, 1992. And more specifically, in Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s documentary Feed, the New Hampshire primary, which Paul Tsongas went on to win. The film—which is screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 8 May, to be followed by a Q&A with Rafferty—doesn’t clarify how all this strange history happened, but it does show how candidates and journalists do their work for TV cameras, in interviews and in the feeds leading to and from those interviews, and in footage shot by the filmmakers around the state.

by Cynthia Fuchs

25 Apr 2012


“Both of us are very proud to be Americans and when you see someone is poisoning what you love, and what you believe in, I think if you allow yourself, you become someone who wants to fight against it.” As David McKay describes his thinking, you might think you know where Better This World is headed. McKay and Brad Crowley, two friends from Midland, Texas, tell a story that seems familiar: as young activists, they were arrested at the Republican National Convention in 2008. As the film unfolds, they’re fighting their legal cases. At the time, that is, after 9/11, says FBI Assistant Special Agent Tim Gossfeld, domestic terrorism was a specific target: “That is what we need to focus all our resources on,” he asserts, “to the best of our ability.”

by Cynthia Fuchs

24 Apr 2012


Six-year-old Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) like pink: her bedroom is painted pink, her bedspread is pink, and she wears a pink tutu when she practices her ballet lessons. Her 10-year-old sister Laure Michaël (Zoé Héran) prefers blue. Céline Sciamma’s wonderful Tomboy—now available on iTunes from FilmBuff—presents their relationship and changing circumstances from their perspectives. The camera remains low as yhey watch their parents (Sophie Cattani and Mathieu Demy) chat in their new kitchen (the family has is moving to a new home just outside Paris as the film begins). Their mother’s belly is large, as she’s pregnant with a boy: they see mom smiling and excited, remarking the baby’s movements. Laure sees in her mother a new delight and also a distance: she wonders, without being aware that she’s wondering, how to regain her attention.

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