(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This compelling documentary covers the conflicts in Afghanistan over the two decades from 1986 to 2006. It is the merging of two documentaries after the makers of one of the movies were killed while producing their film. SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN is at its best when it is showing the destruction the wars did to the Afghan people themselves. When the concentration moves to the politics and the leaders, the discourse becomes a little muddled and hard to follow. At times the testimony of their experts seems rather arguable. Still, this film concentrates on a world with which United States policy is intimately connected, but a world that remains largely unknown and misunderstood by the American public. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In 1987 two film crews independently came to Afghanistan to film the turmoil going on in the country. One crew intended to focus on the how the war with the Soviet Union was affecting lives of the people. The other crew wanted to document the refugees from the war. With a great deal of common interest the two documentaries would overlap and later would be joined into a single documentary. The resulting film tells the history of the fighting with first one super power, the Soviet Union, and then, with very different goals, the United States would send their military to Afghanistan and a different war would begin. The war against the invading Soviets would lead to civil war and to the rise of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. From there the history goes to the 9/11 attacks and the United States' subsequent invasion. The period covered goes up to shortly before the completion of the film in 2006.

THE SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN became a history of not one or two but several conflicts in Afghanistan. Before their death Lee Shapiro and James Lindelof had examined the political turmoil with their focus in large part on Wakil Akbarzai of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan who guides the crew, advises them on how to be relatively, and much of the conflict is apparently seen through his eyes. That same year under circumstances that are still not clear Shapiro and Lindelof were caught in ambush and killed.

The footage they took documenting the lives of Afghans, some of it very personal, came into the possession of the other film crew led by Suzanne Bauman and Jim Burroughs. They incorporated that footage into their own documentary and expanded it to give a quick history going back to President Eisenhower's 1959 visit but really concentrating on the previous twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan, 1986 to 2006.

At times some of the expert testimony presented seems questionable. Frequently the filmmakers will present the comments of Fatima Gailani, the charismatic director of the Afghan Red Crescent. It is her point of view that the threat posed by the Taliban is mostly the result of the widespread illiteracy of the Afghan people. She says that people accept the Taliban's interpretation of the Koran because they are not literate and so cannot read the Koran for their own interpretation. However, religious extremists exercise great power in many places that have far more literate populaces. It seems naïve to assume that the power of the Taliban comes just from the inability of the people to argue Koran with them.

The creation of this documentary was quite a feat and two filmmakers died in the process of creating it. That dedication is admirable. But the political case is muddled and could be put more clearly and more cogently. So the film is far from ideal, but it does present a lot of information that will be new to most of its audience. I would rate SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. This film was completed in 2006 and became available from Cinema Libre video on February 28, 2012.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper