16 September 2014

Two New Films Report on Afghan War, 2007 & 2011

Two new documentaries hit store shelves last week, each potentially key to updating viewers' on how U.S. troops have fought in Afghanistan in recent years. The first, "Korengal," is a companion to the 2011 Academy Award-nominated "Restrepo," by film-makers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. Both films follow a platoon of 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.) soldiers in Eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province in 2007.

The second new documentary, "The Hornet's Nest," compiles the Emmy-winning experiences of father-and-son journalists Mike and Carlos Boettcher, during a year-long embed in 2011 with 3rd BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Kunar Province; and Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marines in Southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

(Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may remember the special place "Restrepo" had in the 2010-2011 deployment of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd BCT, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division to Eastern Afghanistan. As the feature film neared its 2010 National Geographic Channel release—and recognizing that the Iowa troops were heading to potentially similar terrain later that year—the film's media relations crew forwarded a preview copy of "Restrepo" for use during the unit's pre-deployment training.)

Where "Restrepo" depicts the daily challenges faced by a small group of soldiers, without much time for analysis or reflection, "Korengal" offers space enough to let its subjects (and its viewers) breathe. The content is often just as dramatic as that of the first film, but now, we hear and see the soldiers' struggles to render meaning from their experiences. Topics range from dealing with boredom and adrenalin, to racism and tattoos in the military.

Watching "Korengal" feels like finally catching up with some old Army buddies. The soldiers are a few years older now, better groomed, and better fed. But you can see how Afghanistan is still a constant in each of their lives. Some apparently continue to serve.

The dramatic peak of "The Hornet's Nest" involves Operation Strong Eagle III, which took place in March and April 2011. The helicopter-borne "air-assault" operation reportedly involved 400 U.S. troops and 300 Afghan National Army soldiers, on a search for Taliban targets that included al Qaeda leader Qari Zia Rahman. (For an ABC News report on the operation, including text and video, click here.)

Both "Korengal" and "The Hornet's Nest" depict in high-definition the dangers created by steep slopes, lack of cover, and highly motivated enemies. And, through the lenses of each of their respective reporting teams, also come the stories of the journalists themselves. "We only do this to make a difference," 60-year-old Mike Boettcher tells the camera near his film's completion. "That's why you constantly keep going back. Keep fighting, keep trying to tell these stories. Otherwise, my whole life's been for nothing ... You know something? It's been for something. It has."

Where "Korengal" probes the interior motivations and reactions of its subjects, "The Hornet's Nest" goes further afield in its exterior explorations. Viewers hear the angry buzz of incoming sniper attacks, and witness detonations of Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D.) through soldiers' windshields. They see the grim-faced courage of soldiers, searching for mines with hand-held devices, and running to aid of their wounded comrades. The scenery ranges from the hard-scrabble mountains and lush valleys of Eastern Afghanistan, to the sandy, marshy lowlands of the south.

In short, each of these new documentaries provides a key piece toward promoting viewers' understanding, not only of the who-what-where-and-how of soldiering in Afghanistan, but of the intellectual and moral ground we inhabit today.

Watch these movies, before America pulls up stakes.

Watch these movies, to remember the tolls taken, and prices paid on our behalf.


Purchase "The Hornet's Nest" on DVD or Blu-ray, or via streaming services.

Purchase "Korengal" on DVD and Blu-ray, or via streaming services.

Purchase "Restrepo" on DVD or Blu-ray or via streaming services.

"Restrepo" co-producer Tim Hetherington was killed in April 2011 while covering conflict in Libya. A documentary of his life and work, including his experiences in Afghanistan, has also recently been released via streaming media. Purchase "Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington."

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