HBO Film 'Fixer' Echoes Crumbling Afghanistan

"He died in a specific time and place and the goal was to evoke the web of history and power he was embedded in and not lose sight of the man," Olds said. "I came to feel like it was an obligation to come back."

Naqshbandi, self-taught in English, was only 24, newly married and also supporting his parents and two brothers when he died.

According to Olds, a fixer can make $100 to $200 a day for the work, and up to $5,000 for an interview with the Taliban. By comparison, a government employee makes about $7 a month.

"That's why corruption is so rampant, not moral weakness, but it's not enough to support a family," Olds said.

"Fixers are integral to the news-gathering process," he said. "The Western journalist is interpreting the culture through their connections and credibility. You rely on them for everything, linguistically and culturally."

But the fixer also faces more of the risk, because they are often viewed as spies by the Taliban.

"The journalist takes the story back and the fixers are trying to support their families," said Olds.

Taliban Cull Sympathies

The film is critical of the American involvement in the country -- with flashbacks to the 1980s when the Taliban were trained to fight the Soviet occupation. The United States has also done little to reform corrupt institutions that shake-down poor Afghans.

Local Afghans like Naqshbandi are not certain who will take the upper hand in their country -- the American-supported government or the Taliban.

"They are careful to keep on foot in both places and stay neutral," Olds said.

Though Naqshbandi never believed the Taliban would engage in what he called "the Western habit of backstabbing," in the end they killed him and let the Italian journalist go.

A generic shot of a similar decapitation is partially shown in the film. Olds said editing was at times so brutal he had to put his hand in front of his face.

The gritty film, much of it shot with a hand-held camera, gives a sense of urgency to the deteriorating political situation in Afghanistan.

Since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban has tightened its grip and the insurgency has grown more intense. Opium production is at an all-time high and the government is riddled with corruption.

Sham Trial Highlights Corruption

In one scene, the filmmakers ask to sit in on a local trial, only to discover when the accused is sentenced to hanging and shows no expression, that the trial is a sham, filled with actors. Court officials then asked the journalists for payment.

Olds insists he has both a "sense of awe and a sense of despair" about Afghanistan's future.

"I think many Americans have the feeling that Iraq was a bad war and Afghanistan is a good war," he said. "But it may be too late for that."

Olds admits two war films have taken their toll and he is likely to return to fiction.

"I am very proud to have made these films and it was meaningful work to be present for history in a certain way, but it's not something sustainable personally," he said.

War reporters are "drawn back to these moments of incredible intensity, where life is stripped down and simpler," he said. "Petty concerns fall away as you get the story and you get it right and feel engaged in that.

"There is a great draw," he said. "But it's very dangerous. I feel it myself."

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