Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi 2009
Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Nancy Roth, Christian Parenti, and Ian Olds
Directed by Ian Olds
DVD, color, 88 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Journalism, Afghanistan, Middle Eastern Studies
Date Entered: 02/22/2010Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University
“Fixer” is a term used in journalism to describe the individuals who open doors for journalists on overseas assignments, especially war correspondents. They often also serve as translators and sources of information on local opinion and culture. Ajmal Naqshbandi was such a person in Afghanistan.
In March 2007 he was kidnapped with Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a driver while pursuing a promised interview with Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. What ensued was a tragic series of events. Videos of the two pleading for their lives was released with accompanying footage of the driver being beheaded. After an agreed exchange of Taliban prisoners for their release, Mastrogiacomo was freed and the event was trumpeted around the world. However Naqshbandi was overlooked in the media blitz and was eventually discovered still being held. This time though the Afghan government stood firm against negotiating with the Taliban, when the deadline passed Naqshbandi was beheaded. The unrest and activism this stirred against the Karzai government was purportedly the calculated outcome of the Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers.
The story of Fixer is given depth by the unusual coincidence that Christian Parenti, a journalist on assignment for The Nation, had hired Ajmal to assist on a series of reports six months before the kidnapping. While gathering information for his stories, Parenti also took a personal interest in Naqshbandi and recorded several conversations with him. What one sees is a bright, affable young man who went to great lengths to assist his clients with little regard for his personal safety. The film opens with a touchy situation where Parenti and Naqshbandi are deep in Taliban territory interviewing heavily armed men in the desert. Once the encounter is over they’re can’t quite believe they’re still alive. At one point Parenti questions whether Naqshbandi fears being kidnapped and he laughs it off. He’s not a thrill seeker nor is he an activist. He’s simply a man who takes pride in his work and is making the best of his situation.
Without Parenti’s footage Naqshbandi’s murder would be little more than a news story in a world of tragic news stories. But by seeing and learning about his life first-hand, one comes away with a bracing glimpse at the corruption and violence in Afghanistan today. This film portrays this tragedy in a way that won’t be forgotten. Highly recommended especially for journalism and international studies audiences.