The Billion Pound Base – Dismantling Camp Bastion
The documentary followed the dismantling of the eight-year-old camp piece by piece. Camp Bastian was as big as the city of Reading and was built for the British forces. It was host to fast food joints, three huge cafeterias, factories and much more. However, barely anything was to be left for the Afghan people, so the film saw the extraordinarily big task of shipping a city, in pieces, back to the United Kingdom.
The team were allowed exclusive access to the site, Learner explained: “Because the whole place was closing down, a lot of things that would normally be completely impossible to film, because they were no longer existing, we could.”
“You see aspects of warfare that you don’t normally see, and some of that is quite funny,” Learner continued. “All this bureaucratic and logistic health and safety issues that you never think about in terms of war are clearly fascinating and are driving the activity in many ways.”
One of the main features of the film was explaining the cost and running of the camp in general.
Siobhan Sinnerton, commissioning editor for Channel 4, who was chairing the event, asked: “For me, one of the most important things with this film was trying to bring home to British audience what exactly is involved in going to war and how much it costs. How easy was it to tot up all this figures?”
Knott answered: “We had to get a lot of strange statistics, like how many eggs do they eat in a week. And then you also have to come up with how much does the war cost, including things like ammunition.”
The film follows around the British handover of the camp to the Afghan army. Some of the buildings in the camp were left to be defended against the Taliban, however Sinnerton told the audience that just that afternoon they had received information that the camp was under attack.
Sinnerton asked what the panel thought the future of the camp was.
Parry answered: “Well crystal balls in Afghanistan don’t really work. For me, it was always going to be very difficult to defend that perimeter; I am saddened but not surprised by the attack.”
Knott continued: “They are more prepared than they have been. There was always a lot of media reports about how ill equipped they were but you can’t build a country in 10 years and it was always going to be a big learning curb. I was so impressed by what I saw in Afghanistan. I was surprised by the professionalism and what they are trying to achieve. I mean, they don’t even have radios.”
This was followed by a question from the audience about whether or not the little they have been left with was an insult to their pride: “I was a bit troubled with what was left behind, it seem incredibly ungracious, like just a warehouse worth 40,000. . . . Do you think this reflects a broader problem of what we left behind?”
Parry answered this question: “The policy was not to overburden the Afghans with things that they wouldn’t be able to look after and care for. It seems to me, was quite a pragmatic retreat.”
However, Parry explained that this film was supposed to ask these questions, “Obviously, this film is not just a quirky film about how you move a town, it also has ramifications about what is being left and what the future will be, and that’s what gives the film an edge.”
Learner said: “In my view, and in many people’s view, it was a bit of a mad thing to build this enormous base and then take it down again, some might argue the entire exercises was questionable. Hopefully we did strike this balance between being respectful and enquiring a bit.”
Sinnerton finished the evening by congratulating the panel on “making an interesting and enjoyable and bizarrely quite funny film about Afghanistan”.
The film will be screened on Channel 4 on Sunday 7 December.