Cinema Signal:

The Off-Hollywood Film Guide:
The Definitive Guide to Independent and Foreign Films on Video and DVD
by Tom Weiner

. "September Tapes"

Whether it's fearless filmmaking or the kind of deception that made the "Blair Witch Project" such a smash success, this adventure seems to have thrown caution to the winds and taken its chances in war-torn Afghanistan with some dangerous camerawork.

Combining documentary technique with opportunistic staging of scenes and acting, filmmaker Don Larson and an intrepid cast and crew have put together a record of an adventure that defies clarity over what is real and what isn't. There are moments of play-acting a "role," but just when you think you have the "fiction game" figured out, the bullets and rocket fired grenades that comes exceedingly close to our team of actors, with chips of cement and sections of walls exploding to turn your sense of reality quickly around.

Director-cinematographer-cowriter Christian Johnston puts Don Larson (George Calil), a fearless documentarian out in the cities and wilds of Afghanistan with Wali Zarif (Wali Razaqi) as his interpreter in Farsi and muslim guide and Sunil (Sunil Sadarangani) as his laconic cameraman and sets them out on a quest to find a bounty hunter on the trail of Osama bin Laden, a hunt that brings Larson the need to take up arms of his own and engage in the action of life and death.

Propelled by his fury at the events on 9/11/01, Larson is indefatigable and unswervable about reaching the arch terrorist and in recording the justice that could be brought upon Bin Laden when he's found. This is both a chilling and revelatory immersion into a country in ruins and at the mercy of gang justice, and a controlled scenario constructed within unpredictable and ever-shifting circumstances.

An outstanding contribution to the compelling emotional effect of the film is the finely integrated score by first-timer Gunnard Doboze, which is both tasteful in its restraint and musically original. The editing of this footage presents an unusual challenge, which first-time editor Darren Mann met with considerable flair. One could say the success of the piece rests on his work in collaboration with Johnston's sharp directorial eye.

One outcome that I think can be expected from this is a stream of offers for George Calil who might well be seen by the majors as an adventurer in the mode of early Harrison Ford.

What this film really is, is somewhat indefinable and, perhaps, controversial but, that this production from THINKFilm ("The Agronomist") is worth seeing for its sheer audacity and jaw-dropping dynamics is unquestionable.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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George Calil as intrepid documentarian Don Larson
Becoming a combatant

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