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Live Chat with Filmmaker Janus Metz

Armadillo's director chatted with viewers about living with soldiers in Afghanistan, the film's stylistic choices and the dark side of human nature.



POV: This live Q&A with Armadillo director Janus Metz will begin at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, September 20, 2011. Enter your questions or comments now, and we'll queue them up for our guest.

POV: We're just about to get started with our chat with director Janus Metz. You can add your questions now, and we'll queue up as many as we can.

POV: Armadillo is one of the most dramatic and candid accounts of combat to come out of Afghanistan and we're pleased to have director Janus Metz with us taking your questions. Hello, Janus!

janus metz: Hello!

POV: A reminder that your questions and comments are being moderated, so don't worry if they don't appear immediately. We can see them all and we will get to as many as we can!

POV: We have a few comments to get us started...

Comment From Diels1
I thought Restrepo was a fantastic glimpse into a soldier's life in Afghanistan, but this really hit home. Thank you to the soldiers and to Mr. Metz for allowing us this glimpse (a very candid glimpse) into their lives there.

Comment From Kevin Farkas (Facebook)
Compelling presentation of the good, bad, and the ugly of this war. As an American, this opened up a new yet painfully familiar perspective on our global tragedy.

janus metz: thanks for the comments...:)

Comment From Brodie
Janus, really powerful film. I thought it was interesting that you chose to make a very character-driven film, but gave very little background on any of the characters. We don't really have a sense of who they were before they went to Afghanistan. What was your decision making behind that?

janus metz: I was interested in the micromechanisms of war as it unfolds in Afghanistan. This was more a group portrait than a character driven film with a main character in a traditional sense. I was interested mainly in who the characters were in the group and how that reflected ideas of millitarity attitude and masculinity

Comment From Jack T.
Was it difficult to earn the platoon members' trust? When did you know you had the platoon's trust?

janus metz: We did a lot of research and shooting before deployment and one of the purposes of this was also to get to know the soldiers and get them used to the cameras. Once we got to afghanistan hat was well established

Comment From Riley
How did this project get started? What is your relationship to this subject?

janus metz: I was originally asked if I wanted to do a doc for Danish television on the war in Afghanistan. People didn't seem to care about the conflict and I was asked as a filmmaker if I would like to try and bring the war back into peoples living rooms. It then evolved into an international collaboration due to the access that we managed to get to the frontline

janus metz: I was for my part intrigued by the prospect of making a war movie. They ask difficult moral questions that I wanted to explore

janus metz: I was intrigued by the prospect of doing a war movie because they imply profound moral questiions... i wanted to explore what war is.

POV: We've received a number of comments connecting the war in Afghanistan to our viewers' experience in Vietnam.

Comment From Lazjay
I served as an infantryman in Vietnam and this documentary could have been my platoon or my squad in Vietnam using the exact same tactics, strategies employed by the Danish troops. The civilian dilemma of being caught between the Taliban (or the Viet Cong) is exactly the same as Vietnam and the military forces seen here are caught between the overall NATO mission and the micro mission of protecting themselves and their buddies.

Comment From Laura Heinzel52
I have been there as an an Army nurse and learned the hard cold truth of how the U.S. engages in war and loses men & women like cannon fodder without a care. It's all about greed & power, but its called "warrior" & patriotism" & "hero", what every good American wants and believes. I think Janus Metz made a beautiful documentary of war, the way it is.

janus metz: we tried to be very conscious not to overtake the soldiers' own rationality

janus metz: which is very reproductive of the language of heroism

janus metz: We were very cautious not uncritically overtake the rationality of the soldiers which is very reproductive of the "language of heroism".

janus metz: it seems to me there is a lot of similarities between the intransparency in both the vietnam and afghanistan wars

janus metz: particularly when it comes to the relationships between the soldiers and civilians

janus metz: in afghanistan, the soldiers' perspective on the situation is very informed by the fact that they live in camps which protect them from enemies

janus metz: but don't allow any real insight into life outside the camps

janus metz: this to me has become an image of how the Western world operates in the middle east on a larger scale

POV: Our viewers are also curious about how you got access to the soldiers in Afghanistan and the dangers you faced.

Comment From Angela
How did your team manage to get access to the frontline? Were you under the responsibility of the platoon? I ask because journalists find it difficult to dig very deep when under the U.S. army's supervision.

janus metz: the Danish military doesn't have the same history as the u.s. military, so we were able to negotiate unprecedented access to the frontlines without having to face censorship

janus metz: this was extraordinary and i don't think it will ever happen again after armadillo

janus metz: furthermore, a few scandals hit the danish military before the release of armadillo

janus metz: so they would have been in a difficult position to try and stop the release of the film if they wanted to

janus metz: once you reach a forward operating base like armadillo, you surpass the control of the high military command

janus metz: its all in the relationship with the people there

janus metz: once we spent months in that camp, we increasingly became a part of every day life in armadillo

janus metz: and we were able to operate in the area the same way the soldiers do

janus metz: of course we were facing the dangers that soldiers do, but that was just one pre-condition for making a film like armadillo

Comment From Lynn
Can you talk about the actual Armadillo base? What was it like to embed there? Did you live inside the base with the soldiers?

janus metz: theres nothing but the base in the area of armadillo that the taliban doesn't control

janus metz: we of course were embedding inside the base. we had our own tent to sleep in. this is also where lars skree and i were able to distance ourselves to discuss the film without sharing information with the soldiers

janus metz: embedded*

janus metz: one of the most crucial challenges with the film like this film was maintain a critical distance while working with the soldiers

POV: More questions have come up about the dangers you faced while embedded with the soldiers.

Comment From Sylvia
Were you carrying weapons when you were filming during the firefights? That must have been a little unsettling, no?

Comment From Elsie
How did you stay focused on the task of filmmaking when you were frequently at risk of hitting an IED, or being caught in the middle of gunfire?

janus metz: We didn't carry weapons but had to bite our teeth and concentrate on filming. this was very scary at times, but tge only way we could do this film

POV: For our late additions, we're talking with Janus Metz, directors of Armadillo, which recently aired on POV and is also available for viewing online at http://www.pbs.org/pov/armadillo/full.php

POV: We're seeing all of your questions and comments and we'll get to as many as we can in the time we have left with our guest.

POV: Many of our viewers are reacting to the cinematography. We have a few questions about that next.

Comment From Tim
Hi Janus, thanks for being here to answer questions. The aesthetics of the film are hauntingly beautiful and really moved me. Can you talk a little bit about the concepts behind them?

Comment From Barbara
Janus, would you say the cinematic feel of Armadillo fits your personal filmmaking style or did you do it to parallel fictional war movies that we are used to seeing (Three Kings, Jarhead, etc.)?

janus metz: to me, a film is all about images

janus metz: the cinematography in armadillo is constructed to create a sense of place and space physically, psychologically, and mythologically

janus metz: i find that in documentary film in order to reach a certain depth of inquiry, it has to evoke some means of hallucination or hyperreality in the image. that's why my films often lend themselves to the language of fiction as well as the language of realism

janus metz: as in the more traditional sense of documentary filmmaking

janus metz: i believe that film like armadillo has a lot of cracks and openings for the real to come throughy

janus metz: i believe that the element of poetry questions getting closer to authenticity

janus metz: what i mean is sometimes we have to add poetry in order to get closer to reality

Comment From Finn
Hey Janus, I think you bring up an aspect of war that is rarely touched on. So much of the conversation is about returning from war and how to combat PTSD, TBI, etc. This is obviously really important but I think the conversation needs to also include what happens to soldiers IN war - the animalistic savagery that can cloud your judgment and affect your decisions and desire to kill. How do we talk about that? Is it possible to change that? Do you think you have to become a killing machine if you are going to engage in war?

janus metz: thank you for your comment finn, i think it goes to the heart of my inquiry in the film

janus metz: the endpoint of war is savagery

janus metz: when we see this played out as a raw document, we touch on something that's taboo

janus metz: the dark side of the human psyche that war triggers, the desire to kill and the connection between sex drive and violence, or loss of judgement between right and wrong, is a discussion that we have to keep alive by all means

janus metz: i personally suspect that this is something that is deep rooted in human nature

janus metz: i know that by trying to avoid violence, and having rules for war, we can keep some control over human dignity

janus metz: its very clear to me that waging war entails a process of brutalization...the soldiers and the civilians in the area, and even further to the nations, are all engaged in war

janus metz: we always have to question military logic as it tends to demonize other people, creates so-called others that we can then legitimately kill

janus metz: this is the technology of war at its core

janus metz: and soldiers become the tools for this technology

POV: We're almost out of time, so this will have to be our last question.

Comment From Rick
Can you talk about the controversial shooting from the film? What do you think really happened?

janus metz: i dont know exactly what happened since i wasnt at the very front of that shooting incident and didnt see the people in the ditch until they were dead

janus metz: i dont know if they tried to run, surrender, or were people that should have been taken prisoner rather than killed

janus metz: there was certainly a high level of adrenaline and blood rush going into that incident and i think these situations occur all the time in war

janus metz: to me, the situation testifies to the way that war grinds the nervous system and erodes the fine line between civilized and barbaric behavior

janus metz: and it is a document that shows the fall from grace that war entails

janus metz: one of the most striking elements of that incident was the way that the group came together afterwards, before they start polishing up their stories

janus metz: there is a raw document of their celebration, and their wolf pack mentality that developed because of their experiences

Comment From Rick
What do the platoon members think of YOU now that the film is complete and has had a broad international audience?

janus metz: when the platoon members first saw the film before release, they got very angry with me and nervous about how they were going to be perceived by first and foremost Danish audiences

janus metz: they were scared they would be court marshaled, that their families might disown them or yell at them in the streets

janus metz: because of this, ive lost contact with many of the soldiers

janus metz: some of them i did stay in touch with, and some have even said that they feel that the film was a breath of fresh air compared to the ordinary political propaganda on the situation in afghanistan

janus metz: that this was a document that told it as it was

POV: We'll have to end our chat here.

POV: Thank you for taking time to talk with POV viewers today, Janus.

janus metz: My pleasure

POV: If we didn't get a chance to ask your question or post your comment, the discussion continues at POV's companion site for Armadillo at http://www.pbs.org/pov/armadillo/ and on POV's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/povdocs

POV: You can also visit http://www.pbs.org/pov/armadillo/film_update.php for more updates on the film and you can go behind the lens with Janus Metz at http://www.pbs.org/pov/armadillo/interview.php

POV: We'll be announcing our next filmmaker chat on Twitter at http://twitter.com/povdocs

POV: Thank you all for joining this conversation. Bye!





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The mission was to bring the war on Afghanistan back into people’s living rooms and make them engaged. There was a feeling that nobody was really caring that there was a war in Afghanistan.”

— Janus Metz, Filmmaker

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