Film

'Camp Victory, Afghanistan': I Can Tell the Truth

Carol Dysinger's superb documentary sets up the ongoing problems for both Afghan soldiers and Americans, as they try to meet each other halfway.


Camp Victory, Afghanistan

Director: Carol Dysinger
Cast: General Fazaludin Sayar, Colonel Mike Shute
Rated: NR
Studio: Bolo Productions and ITVS
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-11-11 (Asia Society)
Website
Trailer
The only question is, are we loyal to our country, to our people, to the rule of law? Are we dedicated to protecting this nation? Ultimately, in our minds, are we committed to peace or not?

-- General Fazaludin Sayar

General Sayar remembers war. A soldier since he was 13 years old, he looks forward to the day when he can stop fighting for one army or another, when Afghanistan will be at peace. In 2005, he's at the Herat Province Camp Zafar (called Camp Victory by the Americans), where he and the 207th Corps of the Afghan National Army are working with yet another unit of American embedded tactical trainers (ETTs). This training and advisory team changes each year, their tours on a schedule. And each year, General Sayar takes up the task of working with strangers while leading his men.

In 2005, at the start of Camp Victory, Afghanistan, General Sayar is working with a unit from the Vermont National Guard, headed by Major Kirby and Lt. Col. Boyd. "We spent the first three months trying to figure out what we'd inherited," says Boyd, "which wasn’t much, you know." As he describes the troops' lack of discipline and decrepit facilities, the camera cuts to an ammunition belt hanging on a wall, a bird nesting in it. Another voice begins to speak over this shot, that of Sgt. Major Aminullah of the Afghan National Army. "The Americans are used to getting their way," he says as the image cuts to a group of Afghan trainees running in formation through the camp. "They show up and expect it to be the same. After a few weeks, they realize it's different here. Why? Our army is new, right? It just doesn’t work like that. Every advisor who comes here figures that out eventually."

With this deft series of images and observations, Carol Dysinger's superb documentary sets up the ongoing problems for both the Afghans and Americans, as they try to meet each other halfway. Screening at the Asia Society in New York on Veterans Day and also airing on PBS, the film offers a nuanced, poignant view of what it means to be a soldier in a system that seems premised on inefficiencies and tensions. For not only does the National Guardsmen change over each year, but they are also working with coalition forces, including the Italian Army and a Special Forces contingent. As General Sayar notes, this is a difficult array to keep on track, as each comes with its own agenda, its own plans, and its own language. Even apart from the difficulties of fighting the Taliban, this mix makes for problems in daily communications.

During Major Kirby's tour, a series of IED attacks have killed Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, and moved several ANAs to "slip away into the night." Angry at their lack of commitment, Kirby insists that even if not all the ANAs are disappointing in this way, the "one or two that are bad... [have] tainted the whole thing. That changes your attitude right then and there." Indeed, the cycle seems inexorable: when Major Kirby arranges for literacy classes (eight out of 10 of the Afghan troops are illiterate), the potential students don't show up. Frustrated, he suggests that those soldiers who don't want to miss afternoon prayer bring their prayer mats to class. Shaking hands with his Afghan counterparts, he imagines the problem solved. At class time, no one shows up. As the teacher stands outside the classroom, his eyes downcast and a pile of books in his arms, General Sayar observes, "The officers are inexperienced, they don’t have a real education [and can't] execute orders properly."

Major Kirby feels stymied. And the film points out why he must be. As he prepares to leave Camp Victory in 2006, he burns all his papers, a ritual for each ETT team that symbolizes the problem in this system: each unit begins anew, without a buildup of knowledge and experience, without relationships with the very men they're assigned to counsel. The next ETT leader at the camp, Col. Mike Shute of the New Jersey National Guard, arrives with yet another view. (Col. Shute will be on hand to speak at the Asia Society screening on 11 November.) Rather than see himself as a "mentor," as Major Kirby has put it, Col. Shute says he means to "advise" General Sayar; as well, he adds, he will not stand too close to him at public appearances (to demonstrate proper deference), listen to his concerns about the coalition's activities and expectations, and help him to train his men and plan his missions as he sees fit. That is, Col. Shute sees in General Sayar a soldier of longtime experience (much more than the colonel has himself), a man he respects and will come to admire.

Col. Shute doesn’t approach literacy as a problem for U.S. military planning and training so much as it's a problem for the villagers' perceptions of the U.S. military. The locals, he reasons, "don’t know the difference between us and the Russians. We're just another form of weapon, that's all they see." And so he focuses less on changing the Afghan Army than working with it, assuming that General Sayar and his men "know how to fight," and need support rather than instruction. He makes an effort to work with the local population as well, at one point deciding to "take a walk" through village streets (his body armor isn't exactly inviting, but still, he's in view and greeting locals with smiles and waves). He also invites General Sayar to speak his mind.

These conversations are at once dramatic and instructive, offering General Sayar the opportunity to describe the dilemmas he faces each day from his view. Though he spent most of his life at war, the general longs for and envisions peace. A career soldier who would rather not be one, he mourns the loss of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the military leader assassinated just two days before September 11, 2001. (The film underlines the contrast between the inspiration still provided by Massoud and the frustration embodied by Hamid Karzai, in a brief shot of their portraits on a wall side by side: Karzai smiles and waves like a plastic politician, Massoud appears earnest and thoughtful.) General Sayar worries that the American occupation and Karzai government are following the path of the Soviet regime: "Nowadays the government is reading the same manual [as the Russians]," he says. "No one tells the truth. I can tell the truth."

And when he does, Col. Shute listens. The operations are disorganized, the several units must plan together, and the leaders - the Americans and NATO officers -- must trust the men they mean to lead. "What he realized was that the coalition was not talking to each other, and the ANA was suffering for it," says Col. Shute. "He essentially gave us an ultimatum: either train us, or we'll do it ourselves." Four years later, in 2010, this assessment still seems apt.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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