Sunday Screening – Blood and Dust

Screening March 6, 2011 4:00 PM

“In war the only common denominator is the shedding of blood.”

This summer the US plans to start reducing its troop numbers in Afghanistan – a sign many hope, that NATO’s war against the Taliban will soon end. Despite this, the number of combatants and civilians killed and wounded is growing.

Among those best placed to witness this bloodshed are the medevac personnel, who helicopter out across the country to pick up casualties – often while under fire themselves. What is it like aboard one of these units?

Veteran freelance cameraman Vaughan Smith spent two weeks embedded with the paramedics of the US Army’s 214th Aviation Regiment. He came back with footage that reveals both the harrowing consequences of war and the extraordinary skill, commitment and integrity of those providing care. Some of the images in the film are deeply disturbing.

Vaughan’s description of making the film:

I have done a fair number of military embeds in Afghanistan over the last few years but was concerned that I hadn’t filmed the suffering of war, just its machinery.

This being a grevious ommission I went back last winter to film US army air ambulances, ‘Dustoff’ helicopters, flying over Marjah in Southern Afghanistan.The pictures are strong and show both US marines and Afghan civilians being lifted off the battlefield in equal numbers.

I have been pretty busy since returning from this trip last year, what with Julian Assange coming to stay and all that that means. It is very much thanks to the Al Jazeera documentary chaps, John Owen, Diarmuid Jeffreys, Neil Cairns and last but certainly not least because he did the video editing, Ross Birkbeck, that I got it out at all.

I have worked with Al Jazeera on this because I couldn’t find another news broadcaster in Britain that would show the film without cutting out the stronger images. I have huge respect for the way Al Jazeera as a broadcaster engages the world while so many others appear to retreat from it.

27 mins
Directed by Vaughan Smith

Joining Vaughan on the post-screening panel will be John Laurence and others tbc.

As a correspondent for CBS and ABC News, Laurence covered wars in Vietnam, Northern Ireland, East Pakistan, the Middle East, Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, and many others. He is the author of “The Cat from Hue,” a memoir of the Vietnam War.