HBO Film 'Fixer' Echoes Crumbling Afghanistan

As a Taliban suicide blast outside NATO headquarters this week spread panic over Afghanistan's approaching presidential election, a new documentary highlights this chaotic and fragile democracy.

"Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi," which airs tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO, explores the corrupt world of post-9/11 Afghanistan, where the lure of the Taliban's puritanical and swift justice continues to woo the loyalties of the poor.

The story of the escalating crisis in Afghanistan is told through Ajmal Naqshbandi and his close relationship with American reporter Christian Parenti of The Nation, whom he serves as a translator.

Naqshbandi describes his dangerous work as a "fixer" -- the journalist's lifeline -- as "bringing one enemy to meet another."

Fixers are highly paid to use their local skills to arrange for transportation and interviews and to bridge the cultural divide in a foreign land.

What begins as an intimate portrait of two colleagues gathering news turns tragic when Taliban fighters kidnap Naqshbandi and an Italian journalist during a dangerous trip to interview a high-level commander.

Reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo is set free in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, but the attempt to save Naqshbandi is bungled and the fixer is forgotten, brutally beheaded by his captors.

The event and the film raise the question, "Is the life of a foreigner worth more than the life of an Afghan?"

Double Tragedy Hit Film Director

Directed and filmed by Ian Olds, the movie was originally intended to chronicle the rapport between journalist and fixer in a war zone. But double tragedy struck.

In 2006, Olds had just finished making "Occupation Dreamland," with film maker friend Garrett Scott. The film, about the Army's 82nd Airborne during the build-up of troops in Iraq, was short-listed for an Academy Award for best documentary.

But just before they were to embark on a second film, Scott drowned after suffering a heart attack at the age of 37 in the swimming pool at his California pool.

Just two days after Scott's death, the film makers were honored with an Independent Spirit Award.

HBO Film 'Fixer' Explores Beheading

"We had received a grant [to make the film] and I offered to give it back," said Olds, director of the 2007 film "Bomb" about teenage malaise. "I make fiction, and I had always done this with a partner."

But Olds, who had met Parenti in Iraq, set out on a trip to Afghanistan to explore making a film about Parenti and his fixer.

"From the time I was in Iraq, I was interested in the fixer-journalist dynamic," said Olds, now 34. "Over there I saw a whole new project on the subject and the mechanics of war journalism and see the bigger picture of Afghanistan."

As Olds was raising money independently, Naqshbandi was kidnapped and killed.

"My first thought was to abandon the project," said Olds. "There was just too much tragedy. Garrett had died and six months later Naqshbandi was murdered. It was all too much."

Olds said he was "so sickened" by Naqshbandi's death. The fixer had been decapitated with a dull knife from behind. Telling his story seemed "vulgar."

"You are basically using someone's death as dramatic device and that was so distasteful to me," he said.

But he said he changed his mind after looking back at the footage.

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