German TV movie Deployment nominated for Banff Rockie Award – film criticizes ISAF mission in north Afghanistan

German soldiers enter the Afghan village of Milanh in the MOW Deployment. Photo courtesy of WDR/ARD

German soldiers enter the fictional Afghan village of Milanh in the MOW Deployment. Photo courtesy of WDR/ARD

Canadians embraced the popular series Combat Hospital, shown on Global TV in 2011. Unfortunately, the show about a military hospital in Kabul, which averaged 1.5 million viewers per week, was cancelled after only one season, much to the chagrin of the fans.

Deployment (Auslandseinsatz, Germany 2012), nominated for a Rockie Award at the upcoming Banff World Media Festival, is the first German TV movie to deal with soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.

The film tells the story of a group of young, ambitious soldiers who think their role in Afghanistan under the ISAF mandate is peacekeeping and reconstruction, only to find out that the mission is impossible as long as the country is still torn by civil war.

Bundeswehr lost 53 in Afghanistan, withdraws in 2014

The German army, aka Bundeswehr, has operated in Afghanistan since December 2001. Their predominant mission is located in the northern region around Kunduz and Mazar-i-Scharif.

Though Germany’s mandate initially did not involve military action, troops have been confronted with violent attacks since 2008. The first German soldier, Sergej Motz, fell in 2009. Since then, 53 soldiers have died in Afghanistan, 35 of which through attacks.

In a surprise move, Germany’s government announced in April plans to keep up to 800 military trainers in Afghanistan after NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014, reported German news magazine Der Spiegel. “Though perhaps bold and symbolic, the move is also tactical in terms of upcoming elections [on Sept. 22].”

Film characters based on conversations with soldiers

Afghan-German soldier Emal is increasingly questioning the purpose of the mission. Photo courtesy of WDR/ARD.

Afghan-German soldier Emal is increasingly questioning the purpose of the mission. Photo courtesy of WDR/ARD.

Producer Nikola Bock, who wrote the screenplay with Holger Karsten Schmidt, did not get official support by the Bundeswehr, but spoke with numerous veterans during a 5-year research period.

“The first interviews were inspired by a longing and a feeling of ‘doing good.’ In the last few years, pointlessness was the predominant theme. Together with the feeling to have no business there,” said Bock about her conversations with soldiers.
“Most of the soldiers I have spoken with felt they had no other goal in the field than to defend their own presence. They did not recognize another ethical or humanitarian goal beyond that.”

Bock added that according to the soldiers, the meaninglessness of the mission is one of the main reasons for veterans’ problems with PTSD.

Götz Bolten, the film’s commissioning editor at the German public broadcaster WDR, was on the ground in Morocco, where the film was shot, and handled a rewrite and a making-of.

Initially, the story was intended for theatrical release. However, a TV movie would most likely reach a much larger audience in Germany.

The original broadcast of the film in October 2012 had almost 3.7 million viewers, with a large market share (10.2%) of younger people (14-49 years).

“We are honoured to be nominated in Banff, because we consider Banff as a place which acknowledges political and social dedication,” said Bock. “Deployment was not intended as a mere work of art, but rather uses a documentary-authentic style, which fits Banff wonderfully!”

Director Till Endemann said he was inspired by films such as The Hurt Locker and the Danish documentary Armadillo.

Deployment is distributed by Betafilm. The film’s spokesman in Banff is Bolten’s WDR colleague Michael André, who will also represent his own nominated film, Operation Zucker – Silent Children, about human trafficking in Berlin.

The Banff Rockie Award show will be held on June 11. The festival did not respond to repeated media requests.

Reported by Katja De Bock

Watch the German-language trailer here:

***Update***
The winner of the 2013 Banff Rockie Award for best made-for-TV-movie was Operation Zucker – Silent Children, also commissioned by WDR. Congrats!

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