How did you meet Ajmal, the journalist, translator and "fixer" featured in your film?
Well, I first went to Iraq to make a film called 'Occupation: Dreamland.' At that time, I had no experience working in war zones, so I asked journalist friends of mine advice and the first thing they said was, get a good fixer, someone who has good street credibility and connections, because they can save you. I then went on a research trip to Afghanistan with (producer) Christian Parenti, and it was during that trip that I met Ajmal. The idea at that point was to focus on the interaction between a journalist (Christian) and a fixer (Ajmal) and through their story we would see the bigger picture of Afghanistan five years after 9/11. It was after that initial trip, as I was in the process of raising money for that film that Ajmal was kidnapped and later killed.
Initially, the idea of using this man's death as a dramatic device seemed really distasteful to me. He had become a friend of ours. But when I looked at the footage and saw all this material we had of Ajmal, I felt an obligation to go back and tell his story.
The history of Afghanistan, its wars and its people is confusing to many. What did your time there reveal to each of you about the larger story of that region?
The conflict in Afghanistan is confusing, and the people that suffer the consequences often get lost in the headlines. I thought if you could see the war from one human perspective then maybe it would be a way to see how it affects human beings and not simply as some abstract international conflict. Ajmal was caught up in a very specific web of history and power, and he was killed at a very specific time and place. My goal was to try to evoke this web of history and power while never losing sight of the man.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
I hope they get a sense of the complications of Afghan society without being confused by those complications. And I hope they'll get a palpable sense of how Afghan society operates in a person-to-person, day-to-day level, and that people will think more critically about the use of military power and will be more critical of war as a method. I hope they'll see that war has horrible consequences, not only for the people who are injured and killed, but for all the people connected to them who love them. And the sadness that produces. I hope that people will realize that every country in the world is complicated, and that we should think twice if politicians are offering us only simple military-based solutions.