South Surrey documentary filmmaker Alison MacLean has reached an important milestone in an international project that has been a passion for more than three years.
Her 29-minute Afghanistan documentary, Burkas2Bullets, premieres Feb. 17 at Berlin’s Cinemaxx theatre, followed several days later by a private screening at Canada House in Washington, D.C. before an invited audience of diplomats, military officers and State Department staff.
But that doesn’t mean work is over on the project, MacLean said in a phone interview this week. The emphasis for her company, Tomboy Digital Productions, will now be on merchandising different versions to various international markets – utilizing her archive of raw footage from two tours of Afghanistan to expand the documentary to feature-length formats to emphasize the roles of different nations involved in peacekeeping duties and fighting ISIS in the region.
MacLean, a seasoned veteran of videography in war zones, began filming of her independent documentary in 2012 – taking as her subject matter the Afghan women who have chosen to become part of the police and the military in the ongoing fight against Taliban and ISIS forces.
But she said her experience on the ground has also told her that Canada cannot afford to be complacent about security and terrorism – or allowing free movement of Canadians to and from areas that are still hot beds of radicalism and recruitment.
“Canada could very easily have a Paris-style attack,” she warned.
MacLean said the documentary has always been intended as a tribute to the women who – at a time when their country has been relentlessly infiltrated by ISIS and Taliban – have stepped up to make a difference, even in spite of deeply ingrained cultural resistance to their new roles.
At the same time, MacLean said, she’s also showing her film in Berlin next week partly in tribute to German Associated Press photo journalist Anja Niedringhaus who was assassinated by an Afghan police unit commander in April 2014, while covering an election ballot process supposedly under the protection of the Afghan police and army.
“She was a Pulitzer Prize-winner who was murdered by her own Afghan security,” MacLean said, adding that it is difficult not to get “passionate” about her subject matter.
She noted that she would have been part of the same media tour, in which Niedringhaus was killed and Canadian AP journalist Kathy Gannon was seriously wounded, until her media accreditation was pulled by Afghan authorities.
“My frustration is that media people are not protected at all – they are on the front lines,” she said.
The reason she has survived five separate trips to the region (she last returned to Afghanistan in 2014 to complete filming of Burkas2Bullets), she believes, is “that I arranged my own security.”
Even covering the women who are trying to change the situation in Afghanistan made her a walking target, she believes – as a woman carrying a video camera she “represented everything they don’t like about the West.”
MacLean added that her first-hand experience in the region tells her that “Canada has to be more invested in Afghanistan.”
The reality, she said, is that Taliban and ISIS forces are even more deeply entrenched – and more actively recruiting supporters in Afghanistan – than they were when the region was “a staging area for 9-11.”
“They’re all set up with satellite feeds, imbedded in remote areas,” she said. “They’re through 75 per cent of the country.”
She and other documentarians and journalists clearly saw the dangers in 2012, she said. But then and now, she added, she’s been frustrated by the complacence among NATO military commanders and diplomats, who she believes have been receiving a falsely optimistic picture from Afghan authorities at a time when Afghan security forces are still “fledgling.”
“Afghanistan is a front line,” she said. “Although we may be going back to talking about a non-combat zone and a non-combat mission, the reality is that it’s a war zone.”
For more information about Burkas2Bullets, visit www.tomboyproductions.tv