Taliban – Behind the Masks is a television news documentary that gives us a glimpse inside the daily life of a group of Taliban fighters in Eastern Afghanistan. The film was made by Norwegian journalist Pål Refsdal and has been picked up by televisions news around the world. For nine days in October 2009, he was behind the lines with the Taliban, embedded as no other Western filmmaker before him. To capture these intimate and unprecedented images, Refsdal risked his life to embed with Dawran and his fighters in Kunar Province.
In fact, restricting reporters’ access to battlefields is today standard operating procedure. If you are bold enough to try to find a way around those restrictions, you double your risk: to the high-tech forces of many industrialised countries you will be a man on the ground with a camera in your hand, and therefore a potential target. Any doubts about these risks should have been erased by the cockpit video of a U.S. helicopter machine-gunning two Reuters journalists released by Wikileaks in May 2010 – just the most recent of a series of incidents targeting journalists in both the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Meanwhile to insurgent fighters, you will be unknown, and possibly a spy.
Refsdal faced both risks and managed to come away with an interesting bit of footage and great story to tell. In classic journalistic fashion, Refsdal wants to find out about the Taliban: “Who these people really are. Are the Taliban really the fanatics they are portrayed to be in the media?” Judging from the film, his answer clearly is that they are real people, fighting a real war. Taliban – Behind the Masks makes no pretentions to complicated story-telling but he does manage to show us both sides. We see them fighting – preparing ambushes on U.S. convoys, shooting aging Soviet weapons down a valley, escaping from U.S. attacks; we hear them chatting on the radio, both during and in between battles, and singing odes to war.
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