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American Filmmaker On Military Effort In Afghanistan: 'Define Victory For Me'

Carol Dysinger shot more than 300 hours of video for the film.
Carol Dysinger shot more than 300 hours of video for the film.
With her wispy, graying hair and the black-rimmed glasses of an academic, it could be that filmmaker Carol Dysinger was able to fly under the radar in Afghanistan precisely because she doesn't look the part.

But an intrepid filmmaker she is -- to the point of shooting almost 300 hours in Afghanistan, much of it taken while wandering around various military training camps alone with her camera. The resulting feature-length documentary, "Camp Victory, Afghanistan," tracks the evolution of the country's new army under the guidance of U.S. and international forces.

In a film "The New York Times" says "crackles with emotional energy," Dysinger tracks the friendship between two men, Afghan General Fazaludin Sayar and U.S. Colonel Mike Shute, to probe the broader relationship of Afghanistan to the United States. The film comes just in time for this summer's scheduled handover of security from international troops to Afghan forces.

RFE/RL's Kristin Deasy spoke with the U.S.-born Dysinger, a feature-film and documentary editor for the past 25 years, while she was in Prague for the documentary's screening at the One World Film Festival.

RFE/RL: Can you talk about what your film means for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan?

Carol Dysinger: We [Americans] have these ideals about democracy. And they're good ideals to have -- everyone should always be striving to perfect the ability of individuals to be free without impinging on the rights of other individuals, and the worst of us to be supported by the richest without being infantilized. But we need to look at ourselves a little bit....

Afghans are very smart. They're very canny. Even those that can't read and write are very savvy, and very quick to understand a situation. So when you come in and start talking about corruption, and then they turn around and see some NGO paying a corrupt Afghan a lot of money that he keeps half of and then he hands that to somebody else who keeps half of it so the actual school is being built by people earning $1 an hour, he doesn't see you -- as a country -- as being removed from that corruption.

RFE/RL: In your director's statement, you write that America must not lose Afghanistan's war for them and that the United States should not fight their wars on Afghans' land. Can you explain?

Dysinger: When I say we shouldn't fight our wars on their soil, it's kind of like, are we fighting to buy them some time, to stand up some security forces, so they can pick their own battles? Or are we fighting Al-Qaeda, who is now in Pakistan fighting through the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] etc.? It's the motto of the whole film. It's like, OK, define victory for me. What does victory look like? Does victory look like a nice army, standing in a row, some officers who say, 'We got it, you go home'? Or what does victory look like?

RFE/RL: There are a few instances in the film in which native soldiers talk about what it means to be an Afghan. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to include that?

Dysinger: Well, that was [Afghan General] Sayar talking, I believe. I think you're referring to the part where he talks about Afghans follow a leader. And if you want to change the way things are you, you have to work on the leaders, you have to get them to see the value of infrastructure and the value of peace.... So what he was saying was my attempt, which I hope -- some people get it, some people don't -- to say, "OK, we've just seen these warlords functioning [in the film], and they seem like terrible people, and the Americans see them as the enemy."

But what Sayar is saying is, "Listen, you can't judge whether someone is a communist or is a warlord or is a whatever -- you can't." You just have to ask them: are they truly, honestly interested in their nation? Can they even imagine living in peace? And those are the people you need to support, no matter where they were from.

WATCH: Official trailer for "Camp Victory, Afghanistan"

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