Review by Leslie Byron Pitt @
Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy’s documentary details the Afghan Army’s dealings with the Taliban once full security responsibility was transferred over to the Afghan government. Their military involvement was of course spurred on by the tragic events of 9/11. From one perspective, it’s easy to believe that once the western troops had withdrawn, the fighting had ceased. Out of sight, out of mind. Tell Spring Not to Come This Year informs us of the continuing story of the Afghans who must remain in the struggle.
The film follows the 3rd Battalion of the Afghan National Army, deployed in Helmand and their first year (2014) without NATO support. Captain Jalaluddin and Private Sunnatullah are the film’s guides. They engage us with their motivations for signing up with the Army (poverty, educational issues) as well as their personal contentions with what surrounds their work.
Early on in the film, a minor incident has members of the Battalion being told that if they were some mistakes in the past, then they will most certainly be fixed in the future. It’s a throw away comment, but it’s one of the film’s most telling asides. As the film wears on we observe this underpaid, and undertrained force try and cope with a Taliban army that only ever seems to be growing. Resentment of the western troops becomes rife and it’s easy to see why. The film frames the West’s involvement as something many believed at the time: a smash and grab effort to preserve their own agendas. A bullish, narrow minded act leaving huge gaping wounds which will fester and rot.
Tell Spring is told in a matter of fact manner. There’s a distinct lack of flash which works in the film’s favour despite one or two moments belying story construction. It’s simple yet effective digital compositions helps takes away the romance that can occur with higher budgeted features. We’re becoming used to the lack of film grain as film viewers, yet it’s in films like this that often bolster the need of sharpness and clarity to inform us of its story. It expresses itself best in small subtler moments. Exasperated faces of soldiers. Fearful children looking on in the middle of a firefight of in their own backyard. The casual statement that the lives lost by western solider somehow mean more than those who live within the conflict zone. When the narration mentions that there’s been no signs of peace since western troops arrive, the reasoning behind that seems all too clear.
By some remarkably malevolent coincidence, the U.K release of Tell Spring Not to Come this Year occurred on the same day as the Paris terrorist attacks. The power of the film is only enhanced when we observe how recent events are starting to shape themselves. An element of déjà vu can’t help but be felt. The narration states that “Everyone thinks another war is coming”. A sentence that feels like prophecy.
Tell Spring is far removed from the gloss and the glory that’s infiltrates many American war features. Recent years have had the likes of Act of Valour (2012), Lone Survivor (2013) and American Sniper (2014) have helped establish the idea that the American side of their war efforts and its overt patriotism is the only story that should be told. Tell Spring delves deeper with less belligerence. The problematic complexities that some find in the likes of American Sniper are magnified twice here in the disillusioned faces of the 3rd Battalion than on the handsome features of Bradley Cooper.
The so called hive mind of “film twitter” may not consider Tell Spring an “essential” work. It’s doubtful that the film may make the many end of the year lists that protrude from every outlet. However, Tell Spring’s simple and effective storytelling of its little witnessed subject matter; the people the west invaded to save, is vital in informing us even more about the complex natures of the quagmire of modern warfare. This is a formidable piece of documentary filmmaking.
Tell Spring Not To Come This Year was released into cinemas November 13th, it is released on DVD January 11th 2016.