NRK picks up in Afghanistan where “Nightmare” left off

The producer behind Exit Afghanistan (pictured), NRK's follow-up series to its successful Afghan Nightmare, talks to realscreen about the challenges of documenting the withdrawal of Norwegian troops from Afghanistan.
May 22, 2013

The producer behind Exit Afghanistan (pictured), NRK’s follow-up series to its successful Afghan Nightmare, talks to realscreen about the challenges of documenting the withdrawal of Norwegian troops from Afghanistan.

Norway public broadcaster NRK is has followed up on its successful Afghan Nightmare film with Exit Afghanistan, which traces the pull-out of Norwegian troops from their Afghanistan camp, and looks at the Afghan’s who take over.

The first installment of the four-part series aired last week on NRK1, and was watched by 424,000 TV viewers and 61,000 online viewers, making it Norway’s second most-viewed program of the week. The second episode airs tonight (May 22).

Klaus Erik Okstad, producer of Exit Afghanistan and director of Afghan Nightmare (which originally aired on NRK as a six-part series called Norway at War), tells realscreen that the team wanted to tell a side of the Afghan story that isn’t often told.

“About three years ago, Norway at War followed the Norwegian crews from their perspective over a certain period in Afghanistan,” he says. “On the basis of that story, we thought, what if we came back when the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the Norwegians were leaving and sort of picked up the story there.”

The documentary series captures their departure from the camps in Maimana, in northern Afghanistan,and the Afghan security forces taking over, as well as two Afghan civilian stories from outside of the camp.

Exit Afghanistan gets its impressive access, which includes an interview with an exiled Taliban chief, thanks to NRK journalists Anders Sømme Hammer and Marius Arnesen, who spent considerable time in the camps and the surrounding area.

“Arnesen was able to record all the aspects of the transition,” says Okstad. “You absolutely get a sense of people leaving and people coming.”

Being in a war-torn country, the team filming on the ground came up against several challenges.

“Anders, who did the civilian story, had very little movement; he had to stay indoors a lot, and all the while the situation was very tense,” says Okstad. “For our guide at the camp, he was the sole Norwegian among platoons of Afghan soldiers, and he heard the word ‘infidel’ being spoken from time to time.”

The three-person team, Hammer, and Arnesen – as well as a hired cameraman on the ground – filmed civilian stories and the troops over a period of six weeks for the project, which was fully funded by NRK . The plan is to eventually package the episodes together as a feature documentary, as the team did with Afghan Nightmare, and an international version is being readied for the summer.

“I think this film is unique in a way that this is not just a portrait of an Afghan boy, you actually see the whole process of the ISAF forces pulling out and the process of the Afghans slowly realizing what’s next,” explains Okstad. “I don’t think anybody has every told this story yet, in this way.”

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.