On Screen #6 – Afghanistan

Britain’s war in Afghanistan ended recently after 13 years with the main British base at Camp Bastion being handed over to the locals who will be left to their own devices regarding the security of a province which has proved difficult to tame and has seen 453 Britons killed.

This landlocked Central Asian country has been torn by conflict for decades and for that reason (and pretty much that reason only!) has attracted the attention of film makers and TV executives who have used the various wars as a backdrop to tell their story. It should be no surprise that almost none of these productions have actually been shot in its actual location. Many countries have filled in for Afghanistan and it’s this fakery which attracts the interest of me.

Our Girl‘ (2014) aired on BBC1 in October with former Eastenders star Lacey Turner starring as the army medic deployed to Afghanistan as part of a a British Army infantry. She played Molly Dawes; the young working class adult who gets caught up in a love triangle of sorts. Serra Della Camp, a beautiful wildlife reserve in the Bonte Bok mountain range north of Cape Town in South Africa filled in for the country and the crew spent two and a half months filming there.

Unknown p0276qgh

The same set was actually used for ‘Bluestone 42‘ (2013); the BBC3 comedy drama series about a British bomb disposal detachment in Helmand Province. How nice of the BBC to save the license fee payers money by squeezing two shows out of the same set! The comedy focuses on the camaraderie between the soldiers, situational comedy, bureaucracy, conflicts of interests and relationships which is all in stark contrast to the deadly situations the potty-mouth soldiers are required to defuse. The end of the second series would’ve been a fitting and perfect place to bow out but I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t mind his favourite shows coming to an end. However, it will return for a third series in 2015.

5468322-low_res-bluestone-42 images

There was certainly no faking Helmand Province though in ‘Ross Kemp In Afghanistan‘ (2008); the British documentary series which aired on Sky One for five episodes followed by another five for the follow up series which was titled ‘Ross Kemp: Return To Afghanistan‘ (2008). Viewers were taken up close and personal to the realities of battle and the crew were even pinned down by fire from the Taliban, with Kemp enduring bullets passing within inches of him whilst in the second series he ran into a possible minefield.

RossKemp460 RK-Action

Haven’t seen it myself but ‘Combat Hospital‘ (2006) was a Canadian TV show (one season, 13 episodes) set in Kandahar revolving around the life and work of doctors and nurses from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Its creator actually travelled to Afghanistan to conduct first-hand research at a small military hospital where stories from medical personnel were collected to add realism to the show. Real images taken during that visit were blended in with all the other main Toronto-based scenes.

images-1 july11kandahar_1

Onto movies then and Ben Stiller’s romantic adventure comedy drama ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty‘ (2013) featured Afghanistan in the latter part with the Skogafoss waterfall and Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland used to replicate those scenes as this remote European country was used extensively for filming playing itself as well as Greenland. This film is unique in a sense as it includes Afghanistan for reasons other than the war!

410075-61686550-742c-11e3-b21a-c1acf4d34253 408242-6218b180-742c-11e3-b21a-c1acf4d34253

It may be a great story but I wasn’t such a fan of ‘Lone Survivor‘ (2013), particularly the first three quarters of the movie which felt like a propaganda video at times and was more concerned with over-long military-style action scenes instead of characterisation. Bagram Airfield and the ancient city of Bagram itself are seen on screen but all was shot in New Mexico with Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque doubling for the former. In fact, all filming took place in New Mexico (USA) in Chilili and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe National Forest with the latter filling in as the Hindu Kush mountain range that stretches between Afghanistan and Pakistan whilst the former played host to several battles scenes as well as the Pashtun village protected in reality by Afghan villagers out of duty to their 2000 year old code of honour which requires a tribe to undertake the responsibility of safeguarding an individual against his enemies and protecting him at all costs. Their fight against the taliban continues…

Unknown-1 article-2538218-1A635C2E00000578-373_634x409

Born Of War‘ (2013) is set in part in the Wakhan Corridor; the narrow strip of territory in the north-east of Afghanistan extending into China and separating Tajikistan and Pakistan. This time it was Amman in Jordan which filled in for the war-torn country.

The Patrol‘ (2013) claims to be the “British answer to Hurt Locker” and is an action drama film set in Helmland Province in 2006 exploring the relationships between a group of British soldiers as they grow disillusioned with the Afghan war. It was filmed entirely on location in the Agafahy desert which is about 40 miles from Marrakech in Morocco.

the-patrol-tom-petch-owain-arthur-nicholas-beveney-daniel-fraser-2013-raindance-movie-film-review-shelf-heroes The Patrol: film still of soldiers in camp

157 minutes may be too long for a movie where we all know the outcome but ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘ (2012) still provides a very tense and breathtaking finale as the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout (filmed on a specially constructed set in the deserts of Jordan) is played out on screen. The scenes of the Navy SEALs flying in to siege the place are compelling and with it shot to replicate the zero dark thirty (military code for the time 00:30) raid it brings another sense of meaning to the word dark in a film with very dark themes.

ZD30_2 zero-dark-thirty-01-470-75

In ‘Afghan Luke‘ (2011) we see a Canadian journalist going after a story of possible mutilation of corpses in this rocky, impoverished land which appear increasingly incomprehensible and surreal as the protagonist undergoes a series of bizarre adventures. The scenery is quite beautiful actually but naturally those Afghan mountains are not the real thing as British Columbia and Nova Scotia in Canada substitutes for Shirac and the ISAF Base.

Unknown Unknown-1

Kunar Province in the northeastern part of Afghanistan appears on screen in ‘Iron Man‘ (2008). It’s where Tony Stark is captured and imprisoned in a cave after the army convoy is ambushed. Alabama Hills at Lone Pine on Route 395 in central California provide the strange Afghan rock formations. Once he’s escaped from captivity in the prototype metal suit he lands 20 miles further south amid the white sands of the Olancha Sand Dunes. Edwards Air Force Base in southern California doubled up as Bagram Air Base.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 20.36.57 Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 20.37.42

Quite possibly one of the best films to be set in Afghanistan is ‘The Kite Runner‘ (2007); an incredibly moving story about two childhood friends and what follows in their adult lives. The themes of friendship, family, human values, and courage under fire all feature and left a lasting impression on me. The film flashes back and forth and features Kabul in 1978 with production taking place in the cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan in the Xinjiang region of China with film extras supplied by the Ugyur Community of the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. Afghan scenes shot in the oasis city of Kashgar, China’s most western city, include the kite tournament and the mosque where Amir prays whilst Tashkurgan was used for the opening kite duel scenes, the Pomegranate tree, and the Taliban compound where Amir meets Sohrab.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.14.58 Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 23.58.31  Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 00.02.32 Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 00.10.12

Sly Stallone’s ‘Rambo III‘ (1988) sees the main man go to rescue a longtime friend and mentor from a Soviet prison camp in Afghanistan. Whilst in Pakistan a weapons supplier  agrees to take Rambo to a village deep in the Afghan desert where the usual carnage of such a film takes place with the Mujahideen warriors eventually supporting the hero in his mission. Peshawar in Pakistan played host to the Afghan market scene.

RamboIIIcredits Ramboiii45

The Middle-Eastern landscapes in ‘The Beast‘ (1988) were recreated in Israel (if I can be so vague to pinpoint a movies shooting locations to a whole country!). This movie, which often goes by the name of ‘The Beast Of War‘, follows a Russian tank crew during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan which finds itself separated from fellow tankers and relentless pursued by Mujaheddin fighters.

600px-TB-RPG_01a 600px-TB-RPG7WomanA 600px-TB-SMLE-RidgeA 600px-TB-RGD5Grenade02A

For Timothy Dalton’s debut outing as 007 in ‘The Living Daylights‘ (1987) Afghanistan was actually filmed in the desert of Ouarzazate in Morocco which has been used in many films. The standout sequence in “Afghanistan” sees Bond escape from a Russian air base by aircraft. Whilst trying to diffuse a bomb he is attacked by henchman, Necros and as they scrap away the loading ramp opens and a net containing opium bags tumbles out of the back of the plane taking Bond and Necros with it. The net remains attached to the aircraft as the two men fight to the death clinging on to it as it hangs in the wind.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 11.47.11 Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 11.43.48

Tom Selleck starred as a heavy drinking pilot hired by a society heiress to find her missing father in adventure-romance film ‘High road to China‘ (1983). Their journey in two biplanes takes them through six countries with mount Kamenjak near Rijeka in Croatia appearing to look like Afghanistan.

Adapted from the Rudyard Kipling short story, ‘The Man Who Would Be King‘ (1975) starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. It was shot on location in Morocco with the Atlas Mountains, perennial favourite Ouarzazate as well as Glen Canyon in Utah (USA) used to replicate the historical region of Kafiristan which is now known as Nuristan in modern-day Afghanistan.

The events of the original Flashman’s exploits in Afghanistan feature in a brief flashback in ‘Royal Flash‘ (1975) with the head of the Rugby School recounting this tale. ‘Khyber Patrol‘ (1954) was about the struggle between the British army and local tribes who want help from Russia. It takes place on the Afghanistan border although the outdoor sets look remarkably similar to the ones used in many westerns of the time!

So there we have it, over a dozen movies set in Afghanistan but filmed in the likes of South Africa, Canada, China, Iceland, Jordan, Morocco, Croatia, Pakistan, Israel and the USA. Apart from the Ross Kemp series’ (and the news!) the only time I’ve seen the real Afghan landscape is in a short ten minute documentary titled ‘Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul‘ (Watch it here) which follows the lives of two young skateboarders from Afghanistan and juxtaposes the harsh reality of life in Kabul with the hopes and ambitions of the country’s children.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.25.55 Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.30.04

Now there have been loads of war-related films and TV programmes set in Afghanistan and it is nigh on impossible to list them all here. This is just a selection of the one’s I’ve seen or know about but if you know of any others then please let me know in the comments or on twitter via @tokyo_fox

You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below:

On Screen #1 – Vietnam (Click here)

On Screen #2 – Istanbul (Click here)

On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma) (Click here)

On Screen #4 – Brazil (Click here)

On Screen #5 – Thailand (Click here)

Review: Films Set In Japan – Fear And Trembling (2003)

Starting off at Ryoanji temple in Kyoto this French film has a Belgian woman called Amélie (Sylvie Testud) looking back on her year at a Japanese corporation in Tokyo in 1990. Having been brought up in Japan until the age of five she decides to return and has a one year contract working as a translator for the giant Yumimoto Corporation.

She is a determined young woman who suffers for doing things in a western manner in a country which rewards loyalty rather than initiative and workers are promoted based on their years served instead of their track record. Of course, its hammed up a bit on screen but there’s an element of truth to most of what we see in this office based comedy and it’s this kind of mindset that may explain why the Japanese economy has been in a slump for 15 years or so.

images fear-and-trembling

It may be a comedy but this is certainly nothing like BBC sitcom ‘The Office‘! The entire movie takes place in the office (filmed in Paris) so we sadly don’t get any hint of what life is like outside of their workplace. It would’ve been nice to see a glimpse of Amélie’s home life as it’s this kind of thing which helps form and develop a character.

Having tried and failed to work and integrate into the conformity of a Japanese office, Amélie works her way down the corporate ladder amid abuse, humiliation and insane routine as she fails to understand how things are done in Japan. She goes from doing great bilingual research (albeit work that violates the all important company procedure!) to re-setting calendars to serving coffee to cleaning the toilets! In between all that she’s ordered to not speak Japanese when clients and visitors are present as they wouldn’t be able to have any feeling of trust if they knew the white girl understood their language!

Another degrading assignment involves her being made to copy the same document over and over again. No care for the environment and all the paper wasted from Mr Saito as he demands it be 100% accurate with the text dead on centre to the exact millimetre. Anything less is just unacceptable!

The subject matter of this film is fascinating in itself with the protagonist finding herself in these strange situations which is fine for the first half of the movie but after that it failed to really develop any further. That is probably because it’s an autobiographical account of real-life experiences with very little added in the way of artistic license. The film is based on a book which may explain why the director uses voice over (a little too much but I guess some mother-tongue is needed to keep the natives attentive) to presumably portray essential passages from it.

Taking place in 1990, one would hope that this is a caricature of Japanese offices of that time and that they are no longer like this in any way but I still have my doubts about that! A lot of the story revolves around the inability to develop any human relations with her colleagues, particularly the submissive Fubuki; her female work leader. There are some slight lesbian undertones as Amélie adulates her and wants to please her but this is answered with sadistic pleasure as she is continuously belittled. Amélie realises that the best way to deal with it all is in humour and she uses her wild imagination to play the game of obedience and passiveness which her co-workers excel in.

In ‘Stupeur et Tremblements‘, to give it it’s original French title, Amélie has daydreams of falling out the window and floating over the Tokyo skyline as she’s desperate to escape and for many it’s hard to understand why anyone would put up with all the abuse and still be determined to continue working in such an environment.

MV5BMTYzNzc2MzQxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDMzNzAzMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_    10868842_det

Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10