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Wrestling with Afghanistan



By BRET HART -- For SLAM! Wrestling

  When Paul Jay mentioned to me he was about to leave for Afghanistan, I was more than a little concerned.

That was last spring and there wasn't anything anyone could say to keep Paul from going on such a perilous journey because he was about to embark on making a new documentary.

Paul Jay, you may recall, is the highly regarded filmmaker who made the Wrestling With Shadows documentary (1998).

His "little film" about my life went on to earn international critical acclaim and dozens of prestigious awards, including Geminis for best sports documentary, best history/biography and even editing and cinematography.

In the making of Shadows, I spent a considerable amount of time with Paul for more than a year and came to respect his integrity, tenacity and pride of workmanship.

It is obvious to all who know him or have closely viewed his films he has a gift for telling the most difficult stories with stunning and poignant images that haunt, inspire and empower.

Rarely a day goes by someone doesn't come up to me and tell me how riveting Wrestling With Shadows is. It has stood the test of time these last five years, not only in that on each subsequent viewing more layers appear but because it presents an intricate maze of facts without feeling over-laden.

Paul's earlier works included the heralded Neverending Referendum and, after Shadows, he went on to make Lost In Las Vegas, which again delighted critics and earned numerous awards.

So when Paul told me he was headed to Afghanistan, on the one hand, I feared for his safety and, on the other, I knew surely if there was anyone up to the challenge of telling the story of what happened to the Afghani people during the rule and fall of The Taliban, it's Paul Jay.

I was surprised because Paul had decided not to make documentaries for a while ... until, that is, he met Nelofer Pazria, when she was a guest on CBC's long-running flagship news round-table show, Counterspin, which Jay created and is now executive producing.

Pazria was the star of the movie, Kandahar, a fictionalized account of her real-life struggle to find a close friend left behind in Kandahar when Pazria fled Afghanistan in 1989.

Paul wrote: "I knew right away the project had what great documentaries are made of: A compelling character, a dramatic individual story set in an epic background, so in the end I couldn't resist ... In pure film-making terms, it had many of the same elements as Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows but the substance was of more political importance....

"The shooting conditions were difficult. It was very hot, 48 C in Kandahar. The roads were terrible and the drive from Kabul to Kandahar was the worst I've seen anywhere in the world. Years of rockets, mines and tanks have gorged the ragged 'highway.' Along the way, I met a boy who didn't know his own age. He couldn't count."

Return To Kandahar reveals an Afghanistan that, since the events of Sept. 11, western journalists and their audiences know little, if anything, about.

The billions of dollars of promised aid from America's 'War on Terror' haven't arrived ... yet.

The film is simultaneously disturbing and compelling. It is hard to look away.

Pazria states: "U.S. tanks rolling into Kabul and flying the flag in victory may have looked impressive on CNN but ruthless warlords still rule much of Afghanistan."

It is chilling Paul Jay's latest chronicle emerges while CNN's live coverage of the war on Iraq rages on.

It provides a much-needed human perspective and balance to all the recent "embedded" reporting from the battlefields.

I urge you to watch Return to Kandahar tomorrow at 8 p.m. on CBC Newsworld.

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