Afghanistan struggles made real for audiences of ‘Land of the Enlightened’


Ronel Ghidey

The struggles of Afghanistan and its state of being after American occupation are distinctly shown in Director Peter-Jan De Pue‘s first film. His documentary, “Land of the Enlightened” revolves around American and Afghan soldiers occupying a military base, while simultaneously depicting a group of Afghani thieves who aren’t even old enough to shave and their dreams of living a fruitful life.
Opening with a panorama of Afghanistan’s majestic and open landscape, the film, which took seven years to complete, follows these Afghani marauders and their crusades, ranging from robbing merchants to selling opium.
Aside from stealing, the children also dig up old soviet weapons, savage old tanks and even old bullets, which they use as currency. From fighting over the brains of dead sheep to the robbing of old merchants, these kids are ambitious, if anything, and dream of taking their country back from the Americans and ruling all of Afghanistan.  
Simultaneously, De Pue shows a forward-operating base that’s defended by Afghan and American soldiers who fight off the Taliban as they try to advance into their territory. It opens with soldiers patrolling the mountainside and relaxing at their base, then cuts dramatically to these soldiers opening fire on the mountainside, with a barrage of gunshots waking any sleepers in the audience. Through his approach of the base, De Pue illustrates the role of these soldiers as they are sent back home.
The anti-war bias is clearly shown throughout this film, with scenes depicting the standoffish behavior of soldiers towards the natives and their flamboyant attitudes towards the camera. De Pue made some of his stances about U.S. foreign policy very clear. However, because De Pue had the people re-enact every scene to the movie, it seemed to me that some of the scenes lacked the type of conviction that on-the-spot filming usually carries. Along with the entire film being reenacted, he added more dramatical points to the plot, like the Afghan marauder leader’s love interest, which seemed too distasteful for me to appreciate the sentiment behind it.
Of anything else depicted in the film, De Pue’s artistic camera work is to be admired.
From the splatter of dead goat’s blood on the camera to pore-revealing headshots, De Pue uses his cutting edge cinematography skills and 16mm to depict scenes so vivid that can’t help but enhance the emotion of the storytelling.
With his clear images and outstanding dialogue, De Pue made a film that summarizes the life of some children in war torn countries, while skillfully staying away from geopolitical issues. And although following the children’s escapades may have created a chaotic plotline that may have been a little hard to follow at times, De Pue’s first film beautifully captured controversial topics of military occupation and its effects on the natives, as well as the state of the Afghanistan country as a whole.
Did you get a chance to see ‘Land of the Enlightened’ at the True/False Film Festival? What did you think of it? Leave comments below.