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Friday, May 25, 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.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

“How’s your English?” a grainy image shows a figure in an orange jumpsuit, his face obscured and his figured bent. His questioner is even harder to read, appearing as fragments, an arm, a blurred out face. Both are viewed through a frame, as this is a video made of an interrogation, the camera peering down and into the room, the angle itself disconcerting, as it suggests you’re seeing something that maybe you shouldn’t. This is the start of Omar Khadr’s ordeal, recounted in Luc Côté and Patricio Henríquez’s documentary You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo, showing 16 May at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in DC. Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, then sent to Guantánamo, where he was interrogated and tortured. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to five charges, including “murder in violation of the law of war,” as part of a plea agreement with military commission prosecutors. A Canadian, Khadr is currently the only Western citizen still detained at Guantánamo. And to this day, he remains detained, despite that plea agreement.


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Friday, May 11, 2012
In her documentary, Motherland Afghanistan, premiering on Global Voices 13 May, Sedika Mojadidi narrates their journey with a mix of concern, confidence, and wonder.

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.


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


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Sunday, Apr 22, 2012
Farmageddon argues that the US government's efforts to regulate small farmers' food production are not just misbegotten, but also dangerous.

“Ninety-five percent of what Americans eat, you can’t pronounce and you can’t make it in your kitchen,” observes Joel Salatin. The owner of Polyface Farms, Salatin repeats in Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms what he’s said elsewhere—in his books and in the movies Fresh and Food, Inc.—namely, that the US government’s efforts to regulate small farmers’ food production are not just misbegotten, but also dangerous. With Farmageddon, first time filmmaker Kristin Canty brings more evidence to bear, in the stories of farmers who have been harassed by federal and local agencies (the FBI, the USDA, and the FDA, as well as assorted sheriffs’ departments). Linked through their handling by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s D. Gary Cox, these cases include unannounced raids, inspections that turn into seizures, sheep killing, and, in the case of Jackie Stowers (owner of a private food co-op), the armed invasion of the farmhouse she shares with 10 kids and her husband.


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Wednesday, Apr 18, 2012

“It started with the Army of Guardians patrolling the streets,” says Mitra Khalatbari, “constantly restricting, humiliating, and beating young people.” As she remembers the beginnings of resistance in her home country, the Iranian journalist is at once proud and sad. For as her memories bring her back to the elections of 2009 and the cruel oppressions that followed, Khalatbari, like other interviewees in The Green Wave, is stunned by the betrayal and brutality of her government, the government that not so many years ago was born of resistance to another inhumane regime. Ali Samadi Ahadi’s remarkable documentary underscores the horrific irony that the current Islamic Republic was born, in 1979, in response to the Shah’s abuses, and also makes clear the many contexts of the crisis, the history that made it possible and the lack of international that has allowed the crisis to persist. The first film of at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in DC, The Green Wave screens on 18 April, followed by a Q&A with Faraz Sanei, of Human Rights Watch Middle East.


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