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11 Best Documentaries About Afghanistan

These documentaries about Afghanistan show the country’s complex socio-political landscape, marked by conflict, resilience, and cultural richness.

From films documenting the impact of war and occupation to those highlighting the beauty of its landscapes and the resilience of its people, these documentaries provide invaluable insights into Afghanistan’s past, present, and future.


Documentaries About Afghanistan

Whether examining the struggles of women in a patriarchal society, the resilience of Afghan youth amidst conflict, or the intricate dynamics of tribal communities, each documentary contributes to a deeper understanding of a nation often misunderstood by the world at large.

There are many documentaries about Afghanistan to watch but these are some of the best overall.


Restrepo (2010)

“Restrepo” is a 2010 American documentary film that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military at the time.

The documentary provides a raw and intimate look at the daily lives of soldiers as they face combat, build relationships with the local community, and cope with the harsh realities of war.

The film is named after Private First Class Juan Sebastián Restrepo, a medic in the platoon who was killed in action during the deployment. “Restrepo” received critical acclaim for its unflinching portrayal of the experiences of soldiers in combat.


This Is What Winning Looks Like (2013)

“This Is What Winning Looks Like” provides a critical examination of the situation in Afghanistan, particularly focusing on the role of the United States and its allies in the conflict.

The documentary follows British journalist Ben Anderson as he embeds himself with the U.S. Marines and the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Through interviews, footage, and firsthand observations, Anderson explores the challenges and complexities of the military campaign, including issues such as corruption, drug trafficking, and the difficulties of building effective governance and security structures.

“This Is What Winning Looks Like” offers a sobering and sometimes grim portrayal of the realities on the ground in Afghanistan, challenging conventional narratives about progress and success in the war effort. The film highlights the human cost of the conflict, both for Afghan civilians and for the soldiers tasked with carrying out the mission.


Afghanistan: The Great Game (2012)

“Afghanistan: The Great Game” is a three-part documentary series by BBC Two. The series explores the history of Afghanistan and its significance in international politics, particularly focusing on the 19th and 20th centuries. The title “The Great Game” refers to the geopolitical rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia during the 19th century.

The documentary delves into Afghanistan’s strategic location at the crossroads of Asia and its role as a battleground for competing empires throughout history. It examines key events and figures, such as the Anglo-Afghan Wars, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the subsequent rise of the Taliban.

Through archival footage, expert analysis, and interviews with historians and policymakers, “Afghanistan: The Great Game” gives you a comprehensive understanding of the political, cultural, and social dynamics that have shaped Afghanistan’s history and its interactions with the wider world.


The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan (2004)

“The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan” follows the story of eight-year-old Mir, who lives in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan, home to the iconic Buddhas of Bamiyan statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

The documentary explores Mir’s daily life, dreams, and aspirations against the backdrop of the war-torn region. It provides insights into the challenges faced by the people of Bamiyan, including the impact of conflict and the struggle for survival and hope amidst adversity.

The title of the film refers to the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan, which were monumental statues carved into the side of a cliff in central Afghanistan. The statues, dating back to the 6th century, were once a symbol of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage but were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 as part of their campaign against pre-Islamic cultural artefacts.

“The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan” offers a poignant and humanizing perspective on the lives of ordinary people living in the shadow of Afghanistan’s tumultuous history and ongoing conflicts.


The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan (2011)

“The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan” is a follow-up to the 2004 documentary “The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan.”

In “The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan,” filmmaker Phil Grabsky revisits Mir as he enters adulthood, providing a longitudinal perspective on Mir’s life and the changes occurring in Afghanistan over the span of a decade. The documentary captures Mir’s experiences, aspirations, and struggles as he navigates the challenges of growing up in a country marked by conflict, political instability, and social upheaval.

Through Mir’s personal journey, the film offers insights into the resilience and determination of the Afghan people in the face of adversity, as well as the broader socio-political dynamics shaping the country’s trajectory.


Frame by Frame (2015)

“Frame by Frame” follows the stories of four Afghan photojournalists who are working to build a free press in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime.

Each of the four photojournalists featured in the film – Farzana Wahidy, Massoud Hossaini, Wakil Kohsar, and Najibullah Musafer – has a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing Afghanistan’s fledgling media industry. They risk their lives to document events in their country, capturing moments of joy, sorrow, and resilience amidst the ongoing conflict and social change.

“Frame by Frame” explores the power of photojournalism to bear witness to history and to challenge oppression. It sheds light on the importance of a free press in a democracy and the role of visual storytelling in shaping public perception and understanding.


Armadillo (2010)

“Armadillo” is a Danish documentary that follows a group of Danish soldiers from the Guard Hussars deployed to Forward Operating Base Armadillo in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2009. The documentary provides a raw and intense portrayal of the soldiers’ experiences during their six-month tour of duty.

It gives a candid look at the realities of modern warfare, capturing the adrenaline-fueled patrols, intense firefights, and moments of camaraderie and tension among the soldiers. The film also explores the ethical dilemmas faced by the soldiers as they navigate the complexities of the conflict and grapple with the human cost of war.


The Battle for Marjah (2010)

“The Battle for Marjah” follows the U.S. Marines as they launch Operation Moshtarak, a major offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in February 2010.

The documentary provides a close-up and immersive look at the planning and execution of the military operation, as well as the experiences of the Marines and Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire. It explores the challenges and complexities of counterinsurgency warfare, including the efforts to win the hearts and minds of the local population while combating insurgent forces.


Life in The Taliban’s Afghanistan (2022)

“Life in The Taliban’s Afghanistan” is one of the more recent documentaries about Afghanistan to watch and takes a look at the issues of women’s rights under the Taliban as they have regained control of the country.

It shows how the rights of women are deteriorating under Taliban rule once more and the abuse in the system against women. This is a very sad documentary about Afghanistan to watch as women in the country had a lot more freedom and hope before the Taliban once more took over everything.


Saving Mes Aynak (2014)

“Saving Mes Aynak” explores the efforts to preserve the ancient archaeological site of Mes Aynak which is threatened by a Chinese state-owned mining company’s plans to extract copper from the area.

Mes Aynak is an archaeological site that dates back over 5,000 years and contains Buddhist monasteries, stupas, and artefacts. However, the site is situated atop one of the world’s largest copper deposits, making it a target for industrial development.

The documentary follows the efforts of Afghan archaeologists, activists, and international experts to save Mes Aynak from destruction. It highlights the cultural significance of the site and the importance of preserving Afghanistan’s rich heritage amidst ongoing conflict and development pressures.

“Saving Mes Aynak” also examines the broader issues of cultural heritage preservation, resource extraction, and the challenges facing Afghanistan’s archaeological treasures in the face of economic interests and political instability.


Afghanistan: Back to The Future (2015)

“Afghanistan: Back to The Future” is a BBC documentary that takes a look at life in Afghanistan in the 1950s. Through a collection of films by American Glenn Foster, and his Afghan assistant Hajji Mehtabuddin, it gives an intimate portrait of life in Afghanistan back then.

This is one of my favourite short documentaries about Afghanistan as it takes a look at a time before the country would be a battle-ravaged state.


Afghanistan

These documentaries about Afghanistan offer diverse perspectives on the country’s history, culture, and contemporary challenges, providing you with valuable insights into the complexities of this fascinating nation.

For more on the region have a look at the 10 best documentaries about Pakistan.

Also, the 10 best documentaries about Iran.


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