In the late 1980s, two documentary film crews began recording events not covered by the mainstream media in Afghanistan. Two members from one of the crews were killed by Soviet forces. Twenty-six years and eighteen return trips later, the surviving directors, Academy Award ® nominees Jim Burroughs and Suzanne Bauman, have crafted an epic saga of a country victimized by conflicting geo-political interests since the Cold War. The film serves as a testament and a comprehensive analysis of events– mostly overlooked by the mainstream news media–that have created the post 9/11 world in which we live.
“We have been struck by how little of the history behind the terrorist headlines is finding its way to American audiences. American television is seduced by the ever-changing present, but no insight comes without understanding the past. A history that is not understood is one that will come back to cast a long shadow,” says Burroughs. “So, when the Obama Administration recently announced an ambitious withdrawal plan, just as they had announced their equally ambitious ‘surge’, they too demonstrate a lack of understanding of a complex situation that has been created over many decades, in part by the United States.”
Over 20 years Burroughs and team filmed in Afghanistan capturing key events and defining moments that contribute to the complex layering of political, cultural and religious dynamics that are lost in the blaring headlines on Terrorism. These events include: the Soviet occupation and the CIA’s financing of the Mujahedeen; the exile of five million refugees, perhaps a quarter of those maimed by Soviet mines and other ordnance; a violent civil war that followed on the heels of the Soviet withdrawal which saw the rise of regional warlords; the fatal alliance of the Taliban with al-Qaeda; invasions by United States and NATO forces; and in present day, a people still determined to survive.
The film was cut from a compilation of over 100 hours of film and video shot by Burroughs and a second, unaffiliated crew, led by Lee Shapiro. Shapiro and his soundman, James Lindelof disappeared in 1987 as they were on their way to interview the legendary rebel leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Massoud played a lead role in driving the Soviets out of the country and later went on to become a Foreign Minister under interim President Berhanuddin Rabbani, who pushed for democratic reforms while opposing the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyer, and then the Taliban. As seen in the film, Massoud was assassinated on September 10, 2001, in a pre-emptive strike to remove him from a position to lead a counter attack against the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.
The experts in the film including Wakil Akbarzai, a Commander with the National Islamic Front, and Fatima Gailani, head of the Afghan Red Crescent, are interviewed over the course of twenty years, sharing their insights on how their country was eviscerated. In the film, Gailani explains, “It’s not just the United States. If it is a powerful person, if it is a powerful government, they like to feel things are easy. They like to see things are instant – instant coffee, instant juice, and lots of instant. I believe that most of the misery today we see in Afghanistan is because of that instant politics.”
“’Shadow of Afghanistan’ is an important film for the Muslim community, as well, since they are misunderstood by so many since 9/11,” says filmmaker Bauman. “The Afghan people may see the way out of terrorism more clearly than most. As Commander Wakil Akbarzai says in our film, ‘Your planes were hijacked. My country was hijacked too.’ Wakil’s nephew Abdullah reminds us: ‘There were no Afghans involved in 9/11.’”
An earlier cut of the film was selected by the Tribeca Film Festival, IDFA and New Zealand Documentary Film Festival. Burroughs’ companion book, “Blood on The Lens,” is a memoir of his experiences in Afghanistan and is about to go out in a new updated printing. Additionally, Burroughs and Bauman have written extensively about their observations in Afghanistan in the Afghanistan Chronicles, hosted on Truthout.com
Burroughs has filmed on six continents documenting wars, expeditions and historical events. He and Ms. Bauman were nominated for an Academy-Award ® for Cuban Odyssey and received an Oscar ® of Special Merit for the La Belle Epoque. Separately and together they have produced films and television programs for PBS, ABC, A&E and Channel 4 UK. Together they produced Water Wars: When Drought, Flood And Greed Collide, also distributed by Cinema Libre Studio.