Afghan Stories
Vanguard // Unrated // $24.95 // June 24, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted July 27, 2003
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Movie: Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the United States has seen a lot of changes with regard to attitudes and a willingness to adapt, not always in good ways, to the world around us. We've placed a lot of power in the hands of our military to secure us from future threats and our President has aggressively used it to root out possible terrorists in a variety of countries. One of the first, and biggest, uses of the military was in Afghanistan, a country torn by war and police actions (the Soviet Union invaded a couple of decades ago). In the documentary Afghan Stories, director Taran Davies takes a short look at the aftermath of all these years of internal and external forces in terms of the human factor-the very people caught in the crossfire.

In the documentary, Davies and his translator/partner, Walied Osman, travel the countryside and interview several people that aren't affiliated with any formally established government to get their perspective on the last 20+ years of turmoil inside Afghanistan. Rather than take a global view with charts of military actions, a specific timeline, or official statements and press releases, Davies and Osman focus on the most personal of stories of those real Afghanis, including mothers, fathers, and children.

Rather than just have a series of unrelated episodes, although there was a vignette feel to the whole documentary, Davies interjects a lot of comments himself. By doing so, he becomes more a part of the show which opens him up to criticism (by those who unrealistically think the documentarian should be impartially filming the subjects without interfering) as well as praise (by those who believe the whole point of a documentary is to show a particular leaning). Whether he's interviewing small children who've known nothing except for war or older residents who have the background to remember a time when Afghanistan wasn't under constant threat of destruction by a super power intent on imposing it's will on the country, Davies attempted to reach out and look at some of the day to day struggles the people have as much as how the people have adapted to the realities of the times. From the decline in education, to a small marriage ceremony, to the resurrection of customs that could well prevent the country from rising from its ashes, A lot of ground was covered that spent less time blaming all those who've participated in the ruination of Afghanistan and more time on looking forward with what needs to be done to restore it.

My biggest complaint with the show was that it was so short. At under an hour, I can't believe that Davies couldn't find more stories in a country full of people that've lost it all-friends, family, culture, and everything they've known. I'm guessing that the length was designed to take advantage of various media outlets for documentaries but even so, why hot have a bunch of dvd extras with some of the deleted footage if that was the case? Some might argue that another downfall is that Davies doesn't spend most of his time protesting the actions of Afghanistan's latest conqueror but I think his stance has opened up the possibility to more people outside of the country that blame isn't going to fix the problems and there is hope for the future. Hope is a good theme for a show and for all the negatives put on display in Afghan Stories, it remains true to the possibility that the country can be saved.

Overall, there were a number of other limitations of the documentary, ranging from technical aspects to limitations imposed by the very real dangers Davies and Osman faced, but I think it was worth a rating of Recommended. If there had been more extras and a longer running time, I think it might've been even better but the rough edges here seemed to work more often than not.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. There were a number of times when the picture broke up, but as the show seemed mostly unscripted, I can't say that I'd have preferred the artificial look it might've had if the scenes were shot over and over until they were perfect. This is a common problem to documentaries (whether it shows or not) because the spontaneity should prevail over style. There were some artifacts as well but not so many that it impacted the experience for me.

Sound: The sound was in 5.1 stereo but aside from a bit of stereo separation, I didn't notice much use for it. Overall, it sounded fine and the English subtitles on the interview material were easy to read.

Extras: There was a photogallery and a double sided dvd cover without paper insert other than the chapters.

Final Thoughts: Documentaries typically try to sway opinion in one way or another and Afghan Stories is no exception. By driving home the poverty, the death, and other tragedies of war on such a small scale level, the show appeals to our sense of compassion with regard to the situation. While it doesn't propose global solutions to those problems, at least the content gives us all something to think about, regardless of our particular political leanings. The people of Afghanistan are not all that different from the rest of us in what they want out of life and the documentary helped drive that message home a lot better than any anti-war protest or politically motivated ranting from those with an axe to grind. Check it out.

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