Camp Victory, Afghanistan, 2010.
Directed by Carol Dysinger.
The true story of the American Exit Strategy in Afghanistan, compiled from 300 hours of footage shot over the course of three years.
Little-known documentary director Carol Dysinger has achieved an admirable feat with her film Camp Victory, Afghanistan. Not so much the production itself but rather the time-consuming nature of gathering the footage which is said to be three hundred hours worth spread over a period of five years in a hazardous climate. Additionally, in my opinion, she couldn’t have picked a more subsidiary subject to portray if she made an in depth exposé on the toilet habits of Afghan generals. I must stress that analysing the genre of documentary is not typically my forte, so I shall do my best to speak impartially about this one approaching it from a mainly filmic angle.
Synopsising this proved tricky initially for reasons that shall become apparent in due course. But I believe that I got the gist. The film is about the exit strategy used to release US soldiers from Afghanistan. Not only this but we are whisked away on a journey that shows the enlistment process for young, impoverished and illiterate men into the Afghan army of the 207th corps and the musings of war-weary Afghan general W. A. Sayar. Sayar has for a long time called for more education for him and his men but these demands have been met by minor reply. That’s the summary that I could piece together then the narrative wavered. All of a sudden what looked like being an exciting and candid depiction of wartime procedure transpired into recollections of the Soviet occupation of the 80s. I found it difficult to stay interested in the story; as an onlooker unaware of what to expect, you would essentially bear witness to a bombardment of Sayar’s chronicles – a mishmash of former Afghan troubles with few visual aid. It was like sitting around a campfire listening to lengthy yarns. You all know my penchant for dynamism in a production so this style of anchoring a camera for long periods whilst rolling subtitles does not cut it for me. It is only when we are literally following the generals day-to-day grind and he comes an integral component within the plot that I began wanting to know more and more.
The terrifying reality of war is intermittently introduced throughout to disrupt the monotony of well-laid plans. It seemed as if Dysinger enjoyed using this technique but I felt as if it should have been used sparingly… extremely sparingly… try once for the Sayar death. Symbolised by the superimposition of information over a black screen and accentuated using Middle-Eastern music, they are the moments of poignant thought and they do make you think for a minute or two. Beyond that it’s all inconsequential as – and this is me donning my film hat – we have no character exposition so we do not relate to the rest and therefore do not empathise as much as Dysinger would have wanted.
I am not adverse to the diversity of foreign-styled cinema verite, but no matter how much I enjoy a film I do not want to be forced to watch every second of every scene. You have to for most of this film as it is subtitled even in places where, with a modicum of imagination, it needn’t be. For example, there is a scene in which Sayar is presiding over a meeting with US army members and his interpreter is present. All it would have taken is to selectively place the interpretations – which I assume were filmed too – over the relative sections of Sayar’s monologue. Instead the cuts between Sayar’s pauses are noticeable – the pauses designed to invite the interpretation. Ultimately its one giant reading session in which you are hoping that you can read the sentences quickly enough before they disappear.
Camp Victory, Afghanistan sounds like the makings of rocky all-American display of machismo. It’s not that – it’s nowhere near that exciting. In fact no fighting is seen and only a few target practice sessions are depicted. However, like any good documentary, this film was created to be provocative for a long time but it’s hardly that either. Sure these are soldiers being killed and struggling but I have my own struggle: I struggle to understand why I – a non-Afghan, non-American civilian – should give a damn. The deaths of good men are always a sad occurrence but it is also an occupational hazard of being a soldier. Dysinger’s film does not represent them in a less expendable manner other than Sayar whom was evidently a huge character and one predicts, from watching, that his death is a massive loss.
Daniel Davidson-Amadi (follow me on Twitter)