Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi

| August 16, 2009

With an unprecedented number of reports from dangerous places around the world now accessible to the public, it is high time that the public be introduced to those who make possible the hard hitting, investigative reports coming out of Western news channels. In Ian Olds’ new documentary, we are drawn into the world of “fixers”- local journalists who provide outside reporters with the contacts and understanding of local affairs that enable them to provide their viewers with such candid views of what lies behind convoluted world affairs. The relationship between foreign journalist and fixer goes far beyond professional collaboration- without them, the foreigners have no credibility and a stranger’s ignorance of the myriad of cultural and historical subtleties that can mean the difference between getting the story and getting killed.
In the spring of 2007, 24 year old Afghan fixer Ajmal Naqshbandi was hired by Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. While the two were travelling to gather information for a story, they were captured by the Taliban and accused of being spies. A furor of international diplomacy eventually secured Mastrogiacomo’s highly publicized release but Ajmal was retained as a bargaining chip for the release of even more Taliban prisoners. With the spotlight off, the Afghan government refused to negotiate and Ajmal was summarily beheaded.
Keeping the knowledge of Ajmal’s grisly fate ever in the foreground, director Ian Olds begins his documentary six months before the capture when Olds and his colleague Christian Parenti were Ajmal’s clients. Guided by Ajmal’s amiable yet vigilantly savvy mien, the three men drive through Afghanistan rendezvousing with machine gun toting Taliban members, interviewing villagers equally frustrated with the Taliban and the Afghan government and even peeking in on a trial nestled within Afghanistan’s famously corrupt judicial system. The footage of the interviews is intercut with candid conversations while the men are on the road or stopped for dinner; at one point, Ajmal is asked point blank about the prospect of Taliban capture. His confident answer is at heartbreaking odds with what lies in store for him.
Ajmal’s story unfolds in a jangling, non linear fashion as we jump back and forth from the shaky hand held camera footage of the stories he facilitated to the Taliban’s gruesome propaganda videos, an extended sequence on the Soviet invasion of and repulsion from Afghanistan, the Italian coverage of Mastrogiacomo’s homecoming and, most poignant, interviews with Ajmal’s friends, family and fellow captive Daniele Mastrogiacomo. In this way the viewer is given a sense of the chaos that is modern Afghanistan and the uncertainty that besets its people as well as an awareness of the shadowy but comfortably ensconced influence of Western nations.
Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi can be seen as a gut wrenching commentary on the perils of international journalism, the intrigue and hidden agendas of foreign policy and the turbulent atmosphere of a beleaguered country whose people know not whom to trust. First and foremost, though, it is Ian Olds’ and Christian Parenti’s story of Ajmal Naqshbandi, their colleague, one of Afghanistan’s brightest and best, whose unfettered view of his homeland’s corruption and violence did not sour his outlook on life- a life taken by the brutal forces he worked to expose.

Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi
premieres on HBO on Monday, August 17, 2009 at 9 p.m. EST

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