Camp Victory, Afghanistan

Camp Victory, Afghanistan


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Back in 2007, director Waise Azimi focused his camera on the new American- sponsored Afghan Army in documentary Standing Up. It was a scattergun affair that hunkered down with the new conscripts and showed a training regime that was bordering on the comedic. Now some years on, Carol Dysinger tackles the same topic, this time with an emphasis on those in command, offering lot more restraint and structure and a sturdy backbone of historical context.

What her camera captures, however, is in essence much the same thing - only here the chaotic and comedic give way to the frustrating and the futile.

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Her film begins with a Taliban proverb that strikes right at the heart of the issue. "You have the clocks... we have the time." And history has certainly shown that time is on the side of the patient. Afghan General Fazaludin Sayar is the very definition of world weary. He has been in the Army since he was 13 years old and "at war for 28 years". His story and his stoicism come to represent not just himself but the beleagured Afghan populace, who anyone would have to assume, don't like to bury their sons and daughters after untimely deaths any more than we do in the West. After 30 years of fighting to protect his country, though, even Sayar finds it tough. "Ultimately, in our minds, are we committed to peace or not?" he asks poignantly.

When it comes to clock watching, the Americans are logging every tick and tock. Each year a different American Army unit are sent to "teach, coach and mentor" the fledgling national army - but with an army of conscripts who are there as much for cash flow as love of their country and who can fight but little else coupled with a general sense of lawlessness and constant fighting between local warlords, Sayar's task is immense.

Following the activity in the camp and logging a whopping 300 hours of footage over three years, Dysinger's camera watches silently as friendships come and go, capturing, in particular the comradeship that develops between Sayar and Colonel Michael Shute, who despite both doing their best to create lasting change are almost certainly running against the wind.

Dysinger's style is immersive, thrusting us to the centre of activity in the camp and helping us to connect both with the day-to-day struggles of the rank and file and some of the thorny philosophical and political issues that surround the world's efforts in Afghanistan. Sayar relates his personal history of war, offering context that has an underlying emotional rhythm. Dysinger also wisely avoids voice-over narration, opting instead for brief but vital captioning to further aid our understanding of what is happening. And what is happening is somewhat depressing. Yet, still those at the top try to forge something better and there's hope in that at least.

Reviewed on: 18 Aug 2011
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Camp Victory, Afghanistan packshot
Documentary focusing on the fledgling Afghan National Army.
Amazon link

Director: Carol Dysinger

Year: 2010

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


Raindance 2010

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If you like this, try:

Standing Up