Videos of Taliban beheadings are the unthinkable side of home movies: a hijacking of technology as awful as the commandeering of airplanes. Yet as nightmarish as this smeary footage is, it found a significant place at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, in a difficult documentary by up-and-comer Ian Olds, a Columbia film-school grad.
Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi focuses on a multilingual Arab, a “fixer” who arranges interviews for Western journalists visiting the war zone. Naqshbandi, gentle and diplomatic, worked with The Nation’s Christian Parenti (a coproducer of this) and other adventurous newshounds; as one can probably guess, the translator fell into captivity, along with an Italian interviewer, and met with the worst.
Olds presents his collected material out of chronology, showing Naqshbandi’s calm, firm words to the Taliban camera, then flitting months backward to his work with Parenti. The documentary has the nauseating charge of a snuff film; there’s an added element of economic guilt when the valuable Italian journo is successfully sprung, unlike his assistant. But Fixer has some serious merits—an eye-opening account of the risks taken by those who would seek to inform us. Elsewhere in the doc, we see sham courts and corrupt Afghan officials and wonder if it was worth it.