Islamabad: Pakistani filmmaker Shehzad Hameed Ahmad’s documentary series, exploring human suffering in the Afghanistan war, has won two silver awards at Germany’s World Media Festivals 2020. The films, entitled ‘Caught in the Crossfire’ and ‘The Battle for Kabul’, won the awards in the Global Issues and Political categories. The awards were announced online as the gala ceremony was cancelled due to COVID-19. Ahmad recently won two prizes at the New York Festival 2020.
Filming experience in Afghanistan
For Ahmad, the time spent in Afghanistan chronicling the ongoing war was “heartbreaking”. He and his crew spent 15 days in the country, travelling to Bagram airbase, Ghazni and surrounding areas of Kabul to film the two-hour-long documentary.
Describing the filming experience in the war-ravaged country, in an interview with Gulf News, Ahmad said: “From boarding the plane to Kabul, where I was joined by young, tattooed American troops sitting beside me, discussing money issues at home, to the Humvees and Chinooks that greeted me upon landing at the tarmac, it all felt like right out of a Hollywood movie.”
Soon, he realized the proximity and severity of threats. “On the first day of filming, I heard of a loud bang near our hotel. A Daesh suicide bomber had ripped through a gym in the Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi.” As security forces and local Afghan media rushed to the bombsite, his local contact advised to stay at the hotel. But Ahmad decided to continue filming and went to the Emergency Hospital where dead bodies were brought. It felt like “looking war in the eye.” Soon after, a second bomb went off at the same location, killing aid workers, journalists and security forces. “These nerve-racking moments were filmed and became the opening scene of the film”.
Award dedicated to Afghan journalist killed in bomb blast
Sharing one of the most painful memories, Ahmad said, “I won’t ever forget Samim Faramarz, a local Afghan journalist who was blown away while doing a live TV coverage” he said. “I dedicate this award to Samim Faramarz and to all those journalists working in hostile areas.”
Hope for dialogue and peace
The war that has affected three generations is often viewed through a statistical lens such as “6 trillion dollars spent in wars and 100,000 deaths in 10 years. My films humanize these numbers to show the real people lost, dreams shattered, family members taken away,” Ahmed said. Through his films, Ahmad seeks to bring the world’s attention to the suffering in Afghanistan. “I hope governments will one day realise that dialogue is the only way forward.”
Story behind the two winning films
The first winning documentary “Caught in the Crossfire” focused on the lives of three ordinary civilians, a journalist, a female street artist and a young Army cadet, stuck in the never-ending war between the Taliban and the Afghan government. This film allowed him to gain unprecedented access to the Kabul Military Training Centre where Afghan and the US forces train against guerrilla warfare.
The second film, “The Battle for Kabul”, explores the rationale behind the territorial gains by Taliban 18 years after American troops landed in the country and the reasons why Afghan National Security Forces are fast losing soldiers to conflict and attrition. At one point, “the local Taliban commander gave us one hour for filming and warned that the area could be targeted anytime by a drone”. The film also includes interviews of key stakeholders in the peace process, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Profile of filmmaker
Shehzad Ahmad, 34, is a Singapore-based Pakistani documentary filmmaker and broadcast journalist with 14 years of experience. He is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters in Journalism and Documentary from New York University. He is also the recipient of Prince of Asturias Award 2012, six New York Festivals awards and several other prizes. Ahmad was born in Auchi, Nigeria, brought up in Islamabad, studied in the United States, and now lives in Singapore.
For his documentaries, he has travelled to Australia, Afghanistan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines and United States. His films focus on women’s rights, social issues, business and economics, investigations and filming in war zones from Afghanistan to the jungles of Poso, Sulawesi – embedding with the armed forces in the most dangerous locations in the world.