In August 2011, Armadillo director Janus Metz provided the latest news on the film’s reception, the soldiers of FOB Armadillo and his upcoming film projects.
POV: ‘Armadillo’ premiered at Cannes, where it won the critics’ prize after being the first documentary to screen in the Critics’ Week competition. It’s since gone on to screen around the world, at festivals and in theaters, collecting even more accolades. Can you tell us how audiences have reacted to the film, especially in Denmark and the rest of Europe?
Janus Metz: In Denmark the film caused great controversy, because it showed Danes the brutality of the conflict in Afghanistan for the first time. It wasn’t a polished-up heroic encounter of the war, but a very raw and direct exposure. Many people did not realize how heavy the combat in Afghanistan actually is and it also came as a shock for them to see Danish soldiers in the middle of that. Furthermore, the film depicted an incident that is potentially a war crime and revealed not only the difficulties, dilemmas and paradoxes that underpin the conflict in Afghanistan, but also how war and military logic threatens to end in savagery.
Armadillo‘s account and analysis of the brutalizing mechanisms of war has been recognized by audiences all over the world, but it is also a film that doesn’t give any direct answers and that dwells on the ambivalence of difficult moral questions. Audiences have come away with different readings of the film, but the fundamental narrative and the exploration of war at ground level have resonated with people all over the world. I have shown the film to Afghans, who have praised it for its precision and importance, and I have shown it to Vietnam vets, who have told me that Armadillo also reflected their experiences.
POV: At the end of the film, we learned that some of the soldiers who had the option to return to Afghanistan were choosing to return. Where are Mads, Daniel and the others featured in the film now?
Metz: Daniel, Kim and platoon commander Rasmus have gone back to Afghanistan. Mads is still in the army, but has chosen not to go back. I think for a lot of soldiers the feeling of being out there and part of the action is very seductive. It makes them feel alive and it gives them a sense of purpose in their job. This is a heavy hook on which to hang your identity, and it is also a way for these young men to keep proving themselves.
POV: In the film, the soldiers captured a potential war crime on their helmet cameras, which sparked an official investigation. Can you tell us if there’s been a resolution?
Metz: There was an investigation into the incident in the film in which the soldiers kill five Taliban at very close range in a ditch, possibly liquidating them as they are trying to crawl away or surrender. The soldiers have been acquitted, and there is no proof of what actually happened in the recordings. Neither myself nor Lars (Skree), the cameraman, were present at the exact moment of the killings, and the helmet camera doesn’t show exactly what happened. As such, the film doesn’t document war crimes, but there is a strong indication that what happened might not have been completely by the book. What interests me as a filmmaker in this situation is how the atmosphere and tension in the camp build up and allow these types of events to happen. I think this shows how easily war crimes can be committed when soldiers are fueled with fear, adrenaline and gung-ho attitudes. When the hunt for reality kicks in, a war that [due to] modern technology often seems very unreal suddenly gets very, very real.
POV: What are you working on next?
Metz: I have recently signed with Focus Features to develop a narrative feature with them in New York, and I am in the process of shooting a documentary on climate change in the Arctic. I am also in the process of finishing an art film project in Denmark, where I have been collaborating with a Danish painter in an effort to challenge the script-based approach to filmmaking by working in more abstract-image based territory.
POV: The platoon members had a choice, and some chose to return to Afghanistan. Under what circumstance would you go back?
Metz: I would go back to Afghanistan when there is peace and stability and I would have a chance to sit down and speak with the wonderful people of Afghanistan.