Reality bites back
"September Tapes" is a descent into the hell of the Afghanistan war by three Americans with a camera, a determination to find Osama bin Laden, and no idea what they're getting themselves into.
By JOSHUA TANZER
How much of "September Tapes" can you believe? Well, the filmmakers themselves have declared it a "hybrid of fact and fiction," and that's a very disconcerting thing to watch. Wait a minute, you're constantly asking yourself did that just happen or was it staged? Sometimes there's no way to know.
But if you don't agonize over every scene, the film is certainly "true" in the way that a great novel is "true." It shows us the reality of a certain place and time the place being Afghanistan and the time being now.
|Directed by: Christian Johnston.|
Produced by: George Calil, Christian Johnston, Judd Payne, Wali Razaqi, Matthew Rhodes.
Written by: Christian Johnston, Christian Van Gregg.
Cast: George Calil, Wali Razaqi, Sunil Sadarangani, Baba Jon.
Edited by: Darren Mann.
Related links: Official site
The conceit is this: Three Americans an Army veteran, a translator and a cameraman set out on a quest into war-torn Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden, and all that comes back out is a bundle of videotapes documenting their journey. The reality, or my hunch as to what really happened, is that the three started with a camera and a concept, put themselves into a war zone, and took a real chance with their lives to come back with this only partially staged movie. What happens to them is a story; what happens around them is terrifyingly authentic. If "Survivor" were real, it wouldn't just be about eating some bugs it would be like this.
Their odyssey takes them into the homes of gun dealers, through potentially lethal roadblocks, into the desert with the militias, on the ground with AK-47's pointed at their heads, and up to at least the periphery of the real war that's still raging there. The film starts with a lot more talk about the danger than real evidence of it, but the tension level cranks mercilessly up, and by the end we've been through a heart-pounding hell along with these characters. In its handheld-camera simplicity, it's more immediate and wrenching than Hollywood's big-budget war-glorifying extravaganzas.|
I've puzzled for weeks over the film's politics, and although there is a certain all-American lone-wolf bravado a little bit of "Rambo Witch Project" to it, I think it navigates this precarious subject without taking sides in a political debate. What it does is to yank us eyes-first into a place that we, in our living rooms, have known only as a clichÄ. Somewhere in this vast, unreadable desert, bloodthirsty killers lurk, chieftans rove with their posses, American helicopters rain fire, frontier justice rules, and people disappear in an instant.
This may or may not be a true story about hunting Bin Laden, but it is a true enough story about the place where American soldiers have been sent and not always come back. (It also makes the right choice by plunging into almost-forgotten Afghanistan, where the real war on terror has always been, rather than Iraq, site of the diversionary war.) It feels right. "Anything we get will be more than I've seen on TV," says our lead character, Don, as the group arrives in country, and I agree. Americans should flock to see it, if only to get a vivid feeling for what it means next time they hear stories from the "lawless Afghan-Pakistani border." This is that place.
|SEPTEMBER 24, 2004|
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Reader comments on September Tapes:
Stupid from whatever, Aug 15, 2005
Hurrah! from summer jones, May 30, 2007
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