Looking at combat documentaries
Anthony Kaufman has a feature at IFC examining the spate of combat documentaries out of Iraq and Afghanistan, called “Giving Audiences The War They Want.”
Interestingly, with all that technology affords to bring these war zones into our living rooms, the American public has seemed to largely ignore the, But, Kaufman says,
Indeed, the filmmakers behind “Restrepo,” “Armadillo” and “Hell and Back Again” all have similar aims: to capture a “you are there” immediacy that filmed combat can so bracingly convey. And because of the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and its many differences to the more diffuse battlefront in Iraq — in addition to the use of intimate shooting techniques — they’ve been able to evoke the kinetic horrors of war in a much more palpable way.
He examines the work, among others of Danfung Dennis, who was featured last October at this site in a piece by Kurt Lancaster. His film was then titled “The Battle For Hearts and Minds” but seems to have changed into “Hell and Back gain” as Dennis seems to have found his story there.
Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II, which looks like a standard still camera, and mounted on a lightweight stabilizing system with custom-made aluminum “wings,” Dennis’ scenes have a kind of gut-wrenching quality that echoes the violent landscapes we’ve come to associate with previous war imagery, whether the jungles of Vietnam or the beaches of Normandy, whether their fictional representations, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Saving Private Ryan” to those from news footage.
And yet, there’s also something disingenuous about these documentaries. Much of Afghanistan’s plight — and America’s rebuilding efforts — has nothing to do with flying bullets, attack helicopters and soldiers struck down in the heat of battle.
Playing alongside “Restrepo” at the Human Watch International Film Festival this week, Carol Dysinger’s “Camp Victory, Afghanistan,” which examines U.S. soldiers’ efforts to train an Afghan army, lacks the nail-biting suspense of its more war-like brethren, but its wider scope and awareness of cultural — not bloody — conflicts is frankly more accurate about what’s at sake.