Canadian film on Afghanistan shows ‘different side to war’ – filmmaker

1hyena-road-courtesy-of-rh-copy

A still from the Canadian film ‘Hyena Road’ (Photo courtesy of Rhombus Media)

AMMAN — “Hyena Road”, the award-winning film by Canadian director Paul Gross, was screened at Amman’s Rainbow Theatre on Sunday to celebrate the audiovisual co-production treaty between Canada and Jordan.

The treaty, officially signed on Monday, was negotiated between the Royal Film Commission and its counterpart Telefilm Canada, and will act as a cultural bridge for audiences from each country, according to RFC General Manager George David.

“Upon the signature of this treaty, filmmakers from Jordan and Canada can enjoy the financial benefits of each other’s countries,” he told The Jordan Times. 

“On another level, we’re talking about cultural exchange; there are clauses in the treaty that encourage the mutual exchange of films in both countries for the mass audiences. This means that Jordanians will get more access to Canadian films and vice versa,” he added.  

“Hyena Road”, which was partly shot in Aqaba, the Jordan Valley and Wadi Rum, follows a sniper team in Afghanistan before Canadian forces ended their military role in the war in 2011.  

Gross, who directed, wrote and produced the film as well as co-starring, said he was able to document real-life events from the field in Afghanistan during his stays with Canadian soldiers in 2010 and 2011.

The director wanted to witness what the war in Afghanistan was like firsthand and to document it in order to show people a different side of the war from the one conveyed in the media. 

“The nature of conflict is so extraordinarily complex and too often the way we receive stories in our press is amazingly simplified. I think that’s what made me do it in the first place,” Gross told The Jordan Times.

“We were not being informed by our press; we weren’t being told that it’s much more complicated and that it’s much more lethal than we had known. So I felt we needed to try and do something about that.” 

Addressing the audience after the film’s screening, producer Niv Fichman pointed out that real scenes shot during fighting on the ground in Afghanistan were integrated into the film, many of them from “dangerous situations”.

In addition to the footage, the events that take place and the characters portrayed in the film are also based on real people Gross encountered in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the majority of the film takes place. 

“I spoke to soldiers, collecting as many anecdotes and stories as I can in order to get a feel for what everybody did, and then I slowly started putting that into a narrative. I think the film turned out astonishingly accurate to what it was like,” he said. 

“I learned a lot about our soldiers through that experience. I learned that they represented our country with great dignity and honour, as well as with professionalism, commitment and belief in what they were doing.”

Side by side with Canadian soldiers at war, Gross wanted the film to portray Islamic values as well as Muslims and Afghans who were caught up in the events of the war and who, according to him, were “seldom portrayed in war movies that aimed to talk about the struggles of conflict”. 

“It appears that the message that we receive in the West is simplistically towards the notion that the nature of Islam has created this violence,” he said. 

“I didn’t feel like I was in a position to speak for Islam — I don’t practise it and I don’t know it well enough, so I felt that I could let the people that I met who are Muslim speak for it.”

Both Fichman and Gross said that they enjoyed their time working in Jordan with a Jordanian crew in preparation for the film. 

“The country is stunningly beautiful and the landscape is extremely varied, and the hospitality is amazing,” Gross said.

The film has won the Canadian Screen Awards Achievement in Overall Sound, Visual Effects and Sound Editing, as well as the Directors Guild of Canada Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film.

President of the RFC’s Board of Commissioners HRH Prince Ali, Canada’s Governor General David Johnston and Canadian Ambassador to Jordan Peter MacDougall attended the screening.

This piece was published in The Jordan Times

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