Jung (War) In The Land Of The Mujaheddin

The first hour of this gripping documentary about the attempts of an intrepid surgeon to build a hospital in war-torn northern Afghanistan was originally broadcast on Italian television in 1999, when few people were paying attention to the brutal civil war that had been destroying the country since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The second part was aired...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The first hour of this gripping documentary about the attempts of an intrepid surgeon to build a hospital in war-torn northern Afghanistan was originally broadcast on Italian television in 1999, when few people were paying attention to the brutal civil war that had been destroying the country since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The second part was aired in September 2000, a year before the attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington suddenly focused the world's attention on the conquering Taliban and their 10-year war against the rebel mujaheddin, the guerrilla soldiers of what is now called the Northern Alliance. This film's arrival in U.S. theaters could not have been more timely, coming immediately after the combined force of the Northern Alliance and American bombs drove the Taliban from much of Afghanistan. It's not only the chronicle of a courageous effort to bring relief to a land reduced to a desert hell of starving civilians and horribly mutilated children; it also sheds light on the history of a tangled conflict just as Afghanistan's fate once again hangs in the balance. The film is the product of a collaboration among filmmakers Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati, Italian journalist Ettore Mo, and Dr. Gino Strada, the founder of Emergency, an organization dedicated to helping civilian war victims. Strada and English nurse Kate Rowlands arrive in Afghanistan in February 1999, hoping to rebuild the woefully equipped hospital in Charikar, a desert town just north of Kabul that's dangerously close to the heavily mined frontline, where the mujaheddin engage in ongoing battle against Taliban forces. Mo, who's been covering events in Central Asia for decades, provides Strada (and the filmmakers) with invaluable access to several key figures, including President Barudin Rabbani and late mujaheddin leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, the famed "Lion of Panjshir" who was killed by two suicide bombers in 2001. Part one intercuts Strada's efforts at the hospital and interviews with the mujaheddin; wounded civilians — many of them children who have lost their limbs to land mines — with unnerving footage of actual frontline fighting. "Act II" concentrates on Strada's struggle to establish a hospital in Anobah once Charikar is destroyed by Taliban bombs. The film is informative, often grisly and undeniably riveting.

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