What happens when a never ending war ends?
Director Matthew Heineman captures the final months of the 20 year long war in Afghanistan in his new documentary “Retrograde.” Heineman is known for his Oscar-nominated doc “Cartel Land” and his narrative feature “A Private War.” His films are gonzo in the most dangerous and intimate of moments. His unfettered access lets you feel like you’re there — often in places you feel like you shouldn’t be.
“Fly on the wall” comes to mind when describing his films, but Heineman says he hates the term. “No offense to flies, but they don’t have a lot of agency,” he said. He, as a filmmaker, does, however. And he gained access to those “fly on the wall” shots by building trust with his subjects and pounding at bureaucratic hurdles and logistical setbacks.
After a Monday screening of “Retrograde”, the director sat down for a Q&A to discuss how the film came together.
“The goal is to become part of the fabric of the daily lives of our subjects so they can be comfortable,” said Heineman of his style of filmmaking. “You can have those surprising human moments you would never ever get if you just helicoptered in and tried to film.”
Heinman put himself in some life threatening situations. “A lot of people think I’m this adrenaline junkie and love getting shot at, which I don’t —for the record. I don’t do this for the thrill of it,” he said. “If you’re risking your life for something it has to be for some form of a greater purpose or story I really believe in.”
He recounted the filming of a scene where he’s backseat in a helicopter in a particularly dangerous area. The Taliban began firing. He said, “When you’re in the helicopter and rockets are being shot at you there is no object button. There is no I want to go home. You are there. You’re in it.”
He continued, “In those situations the only thing I have agency over is my camera. And that is what I choose to focus on. I focus on framing and exposure. I’m mixing sound when I’m filming. Those are things I can control. If I’m going to risk my life to get a scene I’m going to get it right.”
“Retrograde” is produced by National Geographic and available for streaming on Disney +.