Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****
On its face, Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi is a story about the death of 24 year old Afghani Ajmal Naqshbandi. A "fixer" by trade, Naqshbandi made his living translating, driving and navigating cultural considerations for foreign journalists as they tried to obtain interviews with Taliban officials, mullahs and local residents. In early 2007, Naqshbandi and a team of Italian journalists were double-crossed by Mullah Dadullah, who kidnapped and held them for weeks while demanding the release of Dadullah's brother and several other imprisoned Taliban officers. Unfortunately, the Afghanistan government's priorities were so focused on avoiding an international incident that when the Italians were released no one noticed Naqshbandi wasn't among the liberated. His family went on television, pleading to the better nature of their fellow Muslims to let their son go, but negotiations broke down and Naqshbandi was beheaded. Video footage of his execution was immediately released on the internet.
Christian Parenti, a reporter for The Nation, spent months with Naqshbandi prior to his death. Over the course of their work together he grew close to the Naqshbandi family, who were understandably stricken with grief from the brutality of his death--yet composed enough to stand up to their president and demand justice. Director Ian Olds (Occupation: Dreamland) follows Parenti as he attempts to maneuver the bureaucracy of justice in a country that is at best slowly descending into chaos and at worst a criminal enterprise loosely being held together with good PR and symbiotic corruption. The scenes where Parenti attempts to file criminal reports with local police could easily be mistaken for a Christopher Guest film. At one point Parenti asks to sit in on an unrelated murder trial already in progress and the Afghan court hire actors to play all of the roles of a would-be prosecution.
As with Werner Herzog's 2005 Grizzly Man, we get to know Naqshbandi via the wealth of footage shot months prior to this death. Since both Ajmal Naqshbandi and Grizzly's Timothy Treadwell worked in highly documented and dangerous fields, pontifications of the many possible circumstances of their potential demises are readily available. Unlike Treadwell, whose arrogance, psychological dysfunction (not to mention, lack of concern for the safety of the people around him) had some audiences cheering for the bears, Naqshbandi comes across as intelligent and kind but also fundamentally somber in the way young people who have grown up in war zones so often are.
Similar to Pamela Yates' The Reckoning, The Fixer uses its primary subject as a launching pad to pose larger questions. How can people be expected to form a national identity when there is no expectation of justice? Without some sense of nationalism, are these countries doomed to be a playland for violent militias and religious fundamentalism, forever locking the majority of the population into endless poverty and constant fear?
It's difficult to watch the story of the charismatic and thoughtful Naqshbandi, who just weeks before his brutal death still expressed belief in hope and change for his country. But while the ethereal concepts of hope and change transformed America's political landscape in 2008, Ajmal Naqshbandi's life was cruelly extinguished, and it's difficult to see a much different fate for his homeland.
This DVD contains no extra features.
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