Grude and Andersen: Mogadishu Soldier

I had to choose that still from the IDFA introduction to the film that I have just finished watching. It’s a girl in pain, a victim from the brutal civil war in Somalia, that – says the end credits – has caused the death of 500.000. So far. She gets up and leaves the scene with her mother. She survives. I was afraid she would not make it like many others in the film. I could also have chosen a still of one of the two anynomous cameramen from Burundi. Sometimes they are not named, on the mentioned film credits they are. If OK their names should come out. They deserve credits for what they have given us, an insight to one of the many wars that seldom reaches the front page. Maybe they will come to IDFA? But before I go on, let me give you the catalogue background description of this documentary that is in the IDFA competition and deserves an award that can bring it to be screened all over: 

Since 2006, the radical Islamists of Al-Shabaab have been fighting

to overthrow the Somali government. Under the UN flag, the African Union is now engaged in a peacekeeping mission (AMISOM), with soldiers from Burundi and Uganda. These troops are fighting Al-Shabaab in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital city, with a population of two million. Documentary filmmaker Torstein Grude gave two African Union soldiers a camera with instructions to film whatever they felt was important. For an entire year, they documented diverse aspects of warfare, from firefights in trenches and life on the base to the dead and wounded lying in the streets. They also filmed conversations with local people hoping for food and water, soldiers fantasizing about women, and the arrival of an embedded journalist. War is shown to be banal and chaotic, with periods of boredom and instances of both compassion and gross inhumanity. Taken from no fewer than 523 tapes, this compilation gives an honest and sometimes revealing glimpse behind the scenes of war…

523 tapes in the hands of Torstein Grude and Niels Pagh Andersen, the again-and-again praised Danish editor, who has put the filmed impressions and interviews and battle scenes together in a way so it is watchable… even if a documentary addict like me had to look away from the corpses and the injured soldiers, and the scenes as well, where captured enemies, children fighting for Al-Sharaab sit there with grown-up soldies surrounding them. It hurts. They get close, the Burundian cameramen, because they film their friends and countrymen, who respond with fun or through serious comments on what it means to be a soldier and how difficult it is to distinct to be a peacekeeper from being a peacemaker (there is a fantastic scene with a UN officer telling a soldier, what he can say to the press, in this case CNN), light scenes, problems with payments, songs, civilians fighting to get clothes from the UN or someone else, death, burials – and going home after 15 months duty.

The film is chaptered in a clever way with a focus on a tape that has a description of the content. You know what the next scenes will include. What to expect, it’s well structured from soft to hard, light to dark, it’s hard but bearable, but rough. A film but also a valuable piece of simple documentation: This is what we saw, we were there. Thanks for teaching me, letting me into horror and letting me get out again with thoughts in my head, not ”only” shocked.

Norway, 2016, 84 mins.













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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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