Intelligent, ambitious docu, 20 years in the making, “Shadow of Afghanistan” traces the history of the country from Eisenhower’s visit in 1959 through the Soviet invasion, civil war and the post-9/11 American occupation. But Suzanne Bauman and Jim Burroughs’ pic is also a memorial to Lee Shapiro, a brilliant cameraman killed in 1987 while shooting the film. Unfortunately, the docu’s two agendas never really dovetail: After Shapiro’s vividly compelling 16mm imagery, the more conventionally shot video wrap-up of events since his death feels anticlimactic. Still, timeliness and educational value should guarantee festival and specialized play.
Shapiro’s intimate footage of the Afghan people and their struggles, sometimes accompanied by excerpts from his diaries, masterfully evokes the unique flavor of the country. Twelve years later, Shapiro’s sound engineer and friend Carmen Zuniga accompanies the filmmakers to Afghanistan to try to find the meaning of his death. Meanwhile, newsreel-type coverage and interviews recap intervening events, with pointed mention of l-Qaida. Though the escalating murder of journalists becomes an integral part of both stories, the disparity in treatment between the two segments makes the pic feel unwieldy and overlong.