Septem8er Tapes

on January 01, 2004 by Michael Tunison
"Hire me" indie filmmaking achieves a new height of brazenness in "Septem8er Tapes," a half-staged, largely improvised war drama shot amid the real-life perils of post-9/11 Afghanistan. While you have to give director Christian Johnston and his young actors points for sheer chutzpah when live bullets and rockets start to fly on-camera, the results are painfully lacking in both emotional impact and insight into the country's tragic recent history.

Borrowing the lost documentary footage conceit, shaky-cam aesthetic and other key elements from "The Blair Witch Project," "Septem8er Tapes" follows a fictional American filmmaker (George Calil) and his Afghan-American translator/sidekick (Wali Razaqi) as they blunder around Wild West-like Kabul on the heels of invading U.S. forces. Driven by a desire for personal revenge after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Calil's documentarian is bent on the infuriatingly vague goal of getting "the real story on the War on Terror"--apparently while exposing himself to the maximum amount of danger possible.

In the process, the audience learns remarkably little about the War on Terror, Afghanistan or anything else. The most interesting aspect of what ensues is trying to spot where the script ends and the actors' "real" encounters begin (the filmmakers say virtually all of the Afghan locals in the film believed they were shooting a straight documentary, so those exchanges appear to be improvised). More disturbing to consider are the moral implications of a bunch of Americans running around with cameras playing "The Year of Living Dangerously" while the suffering of real people provides a low-cost atmospheric backdrop.

Bad independent dramas are not exactly rare, but this may be the first one the cast and crew literally risked getting their heads blown off to make. Starring George Calil, Wali Razaqi and Sunil Sadarangani. Directed Christian Johnston. Written by Christian Van Gregg and Christian Johnston. Produced by Wali Razaqi, Christian Johnston, George Calil, Matthew Rhodes, Judd Payne, Peter Finestone and Christian Van Gregg. A First Look release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 93 min

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