The months leading up to the religious New Year of 1380 in Afghanistan were the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the U.S. retaliation against the Taliban regime. For ordinary Afghans, the time between President Bush's declaration of war and the fall of Kabul brought yet another passage of death and suffering in a country alternately ravaged and abandoned by global political forces.
In a riveting follow-up to their internationally acclaimed documentary, "Jung (War) In the Land of the Mujaheddin," which looked at life under the Taliban pre-September 11, the Italian filmmaking team of Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti, and Giuseppe Petitto have produced a remarkable journal of life under the bombs after September 11 in Afghanistan Year 1380.
Afghanistan Year 1380 has its American television premiere Monday, September 9, 10 p.m. ET, in a special edition of public television's POV series (check for rebroadcasts). The film airs as part of PBS's week-long commemoration of the September 11 attacks. One of three specials concluding POV's 15th anniversary season as television's first and longest-running showcase of independent, non-fiction films,"Afghanistan Year 1380 will be followed by Two Towns of Jasper, which airs Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 9 p.m. ET (check for rebroadcasts), and the 2003 Special Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.
In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the filmmakers felt a special responsibility to use the trust and knowledge they had gained in making "Jung (War)" to report once again on conditions inside Afghanistan. With unsparing detail, the plight of ordinary Afghans is seen through the prism of the independent medical relief group, Emergency. Surgeon Gino Strada and medical coordinator Kate Rowlands, and their staff of local and international volunteers, struggle through civil war, air raids, and lawlessness to treat civilian victims and prisoners-of-war.
As war with the U.S. loomed, Emergency was running a hospital for civilians on the front lines between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, and providing medical care to prisoners of the Taliban -- a service the group would later provide to Taliban prisoners of the Alliance. Emergency was also hoping to re-open its surgical center in Kabul. Designed to treat war victims in need of trauma treatment and reconstructive surgery, the 110-bed hospital had been shut down by the Taliban only a month after its opening in April 2001. Even as the city comes under attack in October 2001, Strada and Rowlands make a perilous journey across the front lines in an effort to get the trauma center operating.
Filmed with the cinematic power of a Hollywood drama -- but shorn of the formulas that make tragedy more bearable -- Afghanistan Year 1380 shows close-up the human toll among civilians of current and past wars. Strada and Rowlands and staff find themselves treating victims of old Soviet mines as readily as casualties of current U.S bombing. The wounds are horrific, whole families are wiped out. Ordinary people curse both sides, pray to God, and hope for a peaceful future. As always, it is the children who provide the most searing spectacle of wanton destruction in a country where war has been a constant for generations.
Emergency is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to providing assistance to civilian victims of war -- both the wounded and those who suffer war's consequences of hunger and lack of medical care. A private, independent, and neutral humanitarian organization, Emergency uses low-cost technology and materials to establish surgical/rehabilitation centers inside conflict zones, and trains staffs of local people to meet civilian medical needs. Since its inception in 1994, the group has treated over 285,000 victims of war free of charge on a strictly neutral and egalitarian basis.
Afghanistan Year 1380 is an extraordinary record of war and humanitarian activism. It is an apt reminder that modern war is most brutal for the young and helpless.