FILM CREATIVE + PRODUCTION HISTORY & HOW WE MADE THIS FILM

*Please scroll down to in-depth details into how we made this film from the frontlines to the editing room.

Full crew credits is at the bottom of this page

Kandahar Journals is an independently produced, award winning and critically acclaimed documentary film which follows the story of a photojournalist who reflects on the events behind his psychological transformation after covering frontline combat in Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010. Length 76 minutes in English. Since the film's independent release in special one off screenings followed by a festival run and later was broadcast in Canada on the documentary Channel and has been translated into both German and Spanish.

Spin Boldak, Kandahar at the border crossing into Pakistan south of Kandahar City. Photo © Louie Palu

Spin Boldak, Kandahar at the border crossing into Pakistan south of Kandahar City. Photo © Louie Palu

Synopsis

April 2006. Photojournalist Louie Palu, finds himself in the midst of body parts and the smell of burned flesh. On his first visit to Kandahar he is covering a suicide bombing. Arriving in the country as the wars violence spirals out of control, Louie is unaware that he will spend the next five years covering the conflict. He begins writing a series of journals reflecting on his personal experience and what the war looked like and felt to him.

This film explores a photojournalist’s first hand account of his psychological state while covering a war. The film follows Louie’s journey covering the war in Kandahar from 2006 to 2010 and its aftermath. The narrative spine of the story is built around Louie’s personal journals written in Kandahar. The visual narrative weaves back and forth from the chaos and experiential side of the war using combat footage shot and directed by Louie to the banality of everyday life back home in North America directed by Devin Gallagher. These two narratives have been combined into a single film to give a personal and up-close view into the experience of a combat photographer. The film pivots between these two contrasting experiences which Louie struggles to bridge. Over the years Louie meets soldiers, civilians and is witness to violence and trauma, all of which is weaved into the story.

Co-Director Devin Gallagher and Writer Murray Brewster prepare for one of several research interviews in Ottawa, Canada.

Co-Director Devin Gallagher and Writer Murray Brewster prepare for one of several research interviews in Ottawa, Canada.

Directed by both Louie and his co-director Devin Gallagher the film explores Louie’s life long interest in understanding war connected to his family's experience and his formative years as a photographer. Over time Louie is transformed by the war as the violence increases. The longer he covers the war, the more he realizes the disconnection that exists with the public back home, the war and himself. By the end of the film he must come to terms with the impossibility of photography to convey the reality of war because it is a personal experience.

Tribal elders meeting in Panjwa'i District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

Tribal elders meeting in Panjwa'i District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

Film History

The film's narrative follows Louie Palu's personal journals written in Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2006-2010. The film was edited and the narrative constructed focusing on an experiential window to war. The film pivots between the front lines of the war and relative peace at home. The filmmakers chose to use an unconventional format to tell this story at times using Avant Garde filmmaking techniques to make the viewing experience unfamiliar to the viewers. In the landscape of war films what Louie felt was missing from the conversation was a film that went beyond a conventional documentary and linear storytelling. Having been psychologically transformed by covering the war Louie and Devin worked on having scenes in the film that in some way transported the viewer into the psychological space of the photojournalist.

U.S. Marines in a section of Alexander the Great's invasion route through Farah Province toward Kandahar. Photo © Louie Palu

U.S. Marines in a section of Alexander the Great's invasion route through Farah Province toward Kandahar. Photo © Louie Palu

Film Production Timeline

2006-2010 Photojournalist Louie Palu covers war in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He works independently of any military embed program and also covers military operations embedded on numerous occasions. He also overs multiple provinces throughout the country including the tribal region of Pakistan in 2004 on his own.

2006-2011 Writer Murray Brewster covers war in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He works independently of any military embed program and also covers military operations embedded on numerous occasions. He also overs multiple provinces throughout the country.

2011 Directors Louie Palu and Devin Gallagher begin production on the film.

2011-2014 Film undergoes development, assembly created to first rough cut and numerous scenes developed.

2014 Final edit of film begins in November with Editor Lawrence Jackman.

2015 Final edit completed in February, post production completed in June, film completed.

                               Louie Palu seen in Arghandab District West of Kandahar City in 2010. ©Louie Palu

                               Louie Palu seen in Arghandab District West of Kandahar City in 2010. ©Louie Palu

While photographing the war for five-years Louie Palu met filmmaker Devin Gallagher while taking a course in editing and film production. Beginning in 2011 Louie and Devin began developing the concept for a documentary film following the front line experiences of a photojournalist covering war. Louie's long time friend and colleague writer Murray Brewster, a veteran of covering Kandahar and acclaimed author of The Savage War joined the team in developing the film.

The Savage War book cover. © Murray Brewster

The Savage War book cover. © Murray Brewster

From the outset Devin, Louie and Murray agreed on creating a film that went beyond traditional documentary film making. The goal was to communicate the experiential side of war including what came to be known amongst the filmmakers as the photographer's "psychological space" while experiencing the war and its aftermath. The goal of the film was to show what daily life looked like to a photojournalist experiencing the chaos of war, how it was recorded in their written and visual diaries and experienced in their mind. Editor Marc Robichaud who also covered the war as a cameraman for the CBC joined the team as a Consulting Editor and Art Director. Devin, Marc and Louie began sketching scenes on a timeline which resulted in some early scenes that had the beginnings of a narrative, the first assembly of the possible footage for a rough cut was six-hours long. Alot of the early editing to understand and explore possible visual narrative came from story boarding using small visual cue cards.

              Visual cue cards during early editing and building of the assembly before rough cut editing. ©Louie Palu

              Visual cue cards during early editing and building of the assembly before rough cut editing. ©Louie Palu

In 2014  Canadian filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal, Nick DePencier and Producer Daniel Iron joined the film as advisors mentoring Louie on making the film. This was followed by Louie being selected for the DOC Institute Breakthrough program where Louie was able to workshop the film with a number of notable filmmakers, producers and industry professionals including lead mentor Rama Rau and a workshop with director Steve James.

Additional scene construction story boarding resulting in a six hour first assembly before the rough cut. ©Louie Palu

Additional scene construction story boarding resulting in a six hour first assembly before the rough cut. ©Louie Palu

Soundtrack

Leading up to 2014 Devin and Louie had been exploring music with several composers and musicians. Devin had worked with American composer Manuel Hidalgo on his previous film. Manuel began experimenting with music that captured what Louie described as the "psychological space" of the photojournalist which resulted in the song titled "Solemn" (© Manuel Hidalgo). Manuel composed several versions of what would become the main music for the film. Louie decided early on that no music in the film should be familiar or have any conventional instruments the viewer could latch on to making the film a unfamiliar experience and would compliment the unconventional genre breaking style of narrative and editing.

The Journals

While in the workshop with Steve James the concept of using Louie's personal journals as the narrative spine was developed. Louie had numerous note books he had kept over the years, but his two journals kept in 2009 and 2010 became the main source of voice over for the film. Most of the journals in the film were written after spending months on the frontlines and several months was required to build a coherent narrative that worked with the visuals. The journals became a reflection of Louie's psychological state while covering the war and his personal reflections. Only a small portion of the vast amount of journals were used for the film and were primarily used to show a more universal experience of a photographer at war.

2009 journal written at Forward Operating Base Wilson outside the frontline trauma room in Zhari District, Kandahar. © Louie Palu

2009 journal written at Forward Operating Base Wilson outside the frontline trauma room in Zhari District, Kandahar. © Louie Palu

Afghan Fieldwork + Where We Worked in Afghanistan

Louie Palu and Murray Brewster spent many combined years in Kandahar covering the war. They worked embedded covering the military and worked independently from the military on their own as well. Most of their time was spent in several rural agricultural districts west of Kandahar City which are Zhari District, Panjwa'i District and Arghandab District. These areas are some of the most violent and still contested areas of the country.

Some of the military units that were covered include hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police including the Afghan National Army (2006-2010), Afghan National Police (2007-2010), Afghan Border Police (2010), Afghan Uniform Police (2007-2010). They also spent extensive time in the field with Canadian soldiers from almost every province in Canada including the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry (2006, 2008, 2010), Royal 22nd Regiment (2007, 2009), Royal Canadian Regiment (2010), All Organizational Mentor Liaison Teams (2006-2010). This includes numerous reserve and specialty units including military police, tank, artillery, medical personnel and engineers within the Canadian Forces, with some combined French and Romanian Forces in 2006.

Forward Operating Base Wilson in Zhari District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

Forward Operating Base Wilson in Zhari District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

Kandahar was a NATO lead mission and they also spent extensive time with the British and U.S. Armed Forces including Royal Gurkha Rifles (2007), Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (2008). United States Armed Forces: C Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment (2010), 2-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division (2010), 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (2010), 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment (2010), United States Marine Corps 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (2008), United States Marine Corps 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines (2009), Police Mentoring Team Warrior Task Force Phoenix VIII, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (2009), This includes numerous reserve, Air Force, Navy and specialty units such as medical personnel and engineers within the United States and British Armed Forces.

Louie Palu and Murray Brewster went on hundreds of patrols and combat operations throughout Kandahar and the surrounding region over many years. Including Louie Palu covering over 150 Medevac missions with the U.S. Army 101st Airborne CAB documenting military and civilians casualties in 2010.

Afghan Provinces visited and covered between 2006-2010 by Louie Palu + Murray Brewster: Kandahar, Kabul, Parwan, Khost, Zabul, Nimroz, Helmand, Farah and Uruzgan provinces. This also includes the tribal regions of the Pakistan side of the Afghan border.

Canadian soldier in a firefight near Pashmul, Zhari District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

Canadian soldier in a firefight near Pashmul, Zhari District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo © Louie Palu

To see more images from these areas and this coverage please visit Louie Palu's web page www.louiepalu.com or get a copy of Murray Brewster's book "The Savage War".

Louie Palu would like to thank the following media outlets for supporting or publishing his work from Kandahar from 2006-2010: ZUMA Press, The Canadian Press, Virginia Quarterly Review, Newsweek, TIME Magazine, The Atlantic, The Journal News, Foreign Policy Magazine, Radio Free Europe, The Walrus, The New Yorker, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Macleans Magazine, Geist Magazine, Global TV, CBC, CTV, MSNBC and the BBC.

Louie Palu seen with Afghan Police at the Chilzina (also known as the 40 steps) in Kandahar City after covering fighting in Arghandab District in 2010.

Louie Palu seen with Afghan Police at the Chilzina (also known as the 40 steps) in Kandahar City after covering fighting in Arghandab District in 2010.

Editing

In the fall of 2014 Louie and Devin began looking for an editor. The goal was to find someone who could break traditional genres in filmmaking and was experienced in non-traditional editing. After an exhaustive search Editor Lawrence Jackman well known for his long relationship with the National Film Board of Canada was selected to edit the film.

Half of the roughed out main scenes for the film created by Editor Lawrence Jackman and Louie Palu during editing in Toronto. Many scenes were cut from the film in order to create a strong story line and the 76 minute film was created from just under 80 hours of video, hours of audio and thousands of still photographs. ©Louie Palu

Half of the roughed out main scenes for the film created by Editor Lawrence Jackman and Louie Palu during editing in Toronto. Many scenes were cut from the film in order to create a strong story line and the 76 minute film was created from just under 80 hours of video, hours of audio and thousands of still photographs. ©Louie Palu

L-R Editor Lawrence Jackman and Louie Palu in the edit suite in Toronto. ©Louie Palu

L-R Editor Lawrence Jackman and Louie Palu in the edit suite in Toronto. ©Louie Palu

Themes

Within the narrative of the film themes developed and some were discovered and built into the layers of the film as additional symbols of perception, war and human nature. Three themes that were built into most of the scenes are "seeing vs. not seeing", "nature as an ever present part of war", "the river vs. the road" and "nature vs. man". Throughout the film both visually and by audio birds are an ever present part of the film as symbols of life and the soul as are rivers and roads which symbolize a journey in the film.

Louie's cue cards used during final fine cut editing for building themes into the film and bridging them to an audience. © Louie Palu

Louie's cue cards used during final fine cut editing for building themes into the film and bridging them to an audience. © Louie Palu

Post Production

Editor Lawrence Jackman and Colourist Kerri Locke at Fearless Films work on the final colour correction and picture post in Toronto before completing the film. © Louie Palu

Editor Lawrence Jackman and Colourist Kerri Locke at Fearless Films work on the final colour correction and picture post in Toronto before completing the film. © Louie Palu

Screen grabs directly from the film

Crew

Directors - Louie Palu, Devin Gallagher

Writer - Murray Brewster

Editor - Lawrence Jackman

Director of Photography - Louie Palu

Consulting Editor & Art Director - Marc Robichaud

Composer - Manuel Hidalgo

Advisors - Jennifer Baichwal, Nick Depencier, Daniel Iron

Co-Producers - Murray Brewster, Anthony DiPierdimenico

Associate Producers - Devin Gallagher, Joan Morgenstern, Dawne Langford

Supervising Sound Designer / Re-Recording Mixer - Daniel Pellerin

Assistant Sound Designer / Re-Recording Mixer - Jeremy Fong

Colorist - Kerri Locke for Fearless Films

Produced by Louie Palu in association with the documentary Channel

 

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