Shadow of Afghanistan should be required viewing for all Americans. It should be shown in schools or, better yet, somehow as compulsory television to get the non-students, too. Okay, so mandating programs is not the way we do things in the United States; conservative influence would never allow something so easily deemed anti-war propaganda into most of our school districts. But the documentary, from Oscar-nominated filmmakers Jim Burroughs and Suzanne Bauman, is not merely something to suggest seeing; it is one of those films that mostly benefits those viewers with no interest in it, who would never consider such a suggestion.
An exhaustive look at the last fifty years in Afghan history, the film is vital primarily for its information, which I'm sure could easily be learned in a book about the country. Of course, movies are not only capable of attracting more people to any subject; their visual format often illustrates points more comprehensibly for people as well. A textbook could tell me how Afghanistan was very prosperous in the 1950s and '60s, but I am better able to absorb this concept and its significance by seeing footage of the country during that time, and by hearing stories from individuals affected by its subsequent economic change. The same heightened understanding can be applied to the Soviet invasion, the exile of refugees, the civil war, the rule of the Taliban, and finally the U.S. invasion.
Shadow of Afghanistan is not an entertaining documentary. At times it is too slow, a difficult thing to bear with such an extensive amount of ground covered, and feels as if its length is equal to the time period it examines. It is also very self-aware and self-involved, primarily because it is as much about war-time journalism as it is about a war-torn land. The significance of this element comes through primarily in its discussion of the many filmmakers and reporters, including two involved in this production, who vanished or were killed in the last twenty years.
Its power, though, is in its the educational material, because very few Americans, even those who were against our bombing there and those who actually follow the specifics of current events, have enough knowledge of Afghanistan's misfortunes. The tragedy of the last thirty years is depicted through the meeting of a formerly wealthy woman who now silently seems ashamed by her dirt-poor existence. Throughout the film's production, which began in the '80s and has lasted through more than a dozen different shoots, the documentary also followed the life of Afghan warrior and escort Wakil Akbarzai as he describes the struggle to give service to a country that is continually pulled apart. It is through these and other people that the history of Afghanistan is represented in graphic detail.
To consider Shadow of Afghanistan a requisite, you must also realize the necessity for similar profiles on places like Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Sudan, among many others. Really, it would make even more sense for profiles of countries that we haven't yet attacked, as a preventive measure. Because our schools and media don't focus enough on our ignorance of locations we bomb, there is a great likelihood of other nations going the way of Afghanistan in the future. Unfortunately, we can't be bothered with devoting the amount of time necessary for watching enough docs to make us informed about our world. That would take almost as much time as watching a season of American Idol or as going to see all of this summer's blockbuster movies.