Monday, February 14, 2011

Spotlight on: “Armadillo”

A Danish soldier stares in shock after being shot in the documentary "Armadillo."

When the killing commences, you’re as taken aback as the men in the middle of it.

The cameraman dives to the ground – we see nothing but flashes of sky, the ground, sky again. Then he orients himself, gets vertical again, and runs toward the shooting, taking us with him.

This is the epicenter of “Armadillo,” a documentary feature that takes its place alongside “The Battle of San Pietro,” “Hearts and Minds,” “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Restrepo” as one of the most eloquent stories of mankind’s most tragic enterprise – warfare.

The irony of tiny Denmark sending peace-keeping troops to Afghanistan is quickly undermined by the day-to-day realities of life on the front lines. The Danes are sitting ducks – sharing an advance post with the British, surrounded by fields and foothills, an unfriendly and frightened populace, and an enemy that can’t be seen.

Despite what look to be the most sophisticated detection and assault devices available, the Taliban enemy is maddeningly hard to find and engage. If they are confronted, they strike and retreat into the dull brown-and-gray landscape, indistinguishable from civilians.

The gradual reversion of the troops on their six-month mission to aggressive, reactive thinking is plain and painful to watch. The constant stream of aggrieved farmers who have lost crops, animals, friends and relatives to the stray and misguided shells of the “good guys,” the embattled desperation of their position, the vulnerability to sabotage – all grind away at the soldiers’ nerves.

When they get a clear shot at the enemy in the film’s central sequence, their relief at overcoming their enemies and their joy at still being alive is hard to dismiss. When repercussions threaten them, they close ranks and become stubborn and defensive. For better and worse, they are in full combat mode.

No matter what your politics are, “Armadillo” will move you. It makes clear that, if you survive battle, you will never be the same after it.



Dir: Janus Metz Pedersen

Feature Documentary


100 min.

Presented at the First United Methodist Church

Saturday, Feb. 19, 9:30 p.m.

Spotlight on: “Hand Held”

Mike Carroll (right) and friend.

If you don’t cry at some point during this film, check your pulse. You may be dead.

“Hand Held” is the new documentary directed by two-time Boulder International Film Festival guest Don Hahn, the Oscar-winning producer of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” who brought us the wonderful documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty” last year.

His offering this year is entirely different – probing and lacerating, asking hard-hitting questions about political decisions that impact innocent lives, and even the nature of do-gooding itself.

The work centers on Mike Carroll, a photojournalist who uncovered the nightmare of government orphanages in Romania after the downfall of dictator Ceausescu in 1989. Here, underfed, un-cared for and AIDS-infected children languished, victimized by the whims of a leader who demanded record amounts of reproduction from his people while keeping them in abject poverty.

Carroll’s eyes become ours, as he walks us through his increasing involvement in a mission to save these kids.

What’s most intriguing about the film is the fact Carroll does question his motives, especially as his personal life starts to fall apart as a result of his commitment to the cause. Hahn has the good sense and commitment to truth to keep this footage in the film – as aspect of social action not often brought up or considered in film.

Too, Carroll wonders about the exploitative nature of using photos – and by extension, the film he’s in – to arouse sympathy and gather support for Romania’s unfortunate. Does the act of witnessing reduce the complex human beings in the viewfinder to stereotypes of need? What gets lost in the process? “Hand Held” looks bravely at the cost on both sides of the camera.

We are very fortunate to host, not only director Hahn, but Mike Carroll as well at this screening. After the film, we’ll sit down with them to discuss this remarkable project.

Hand Held


Dir: Don Hahn

Feature Documentary


85 min.

Presented at the First United Methodist Church

Saturday, Feb. 19, 7:15 p.m.

Co-presented by Romanian Children’s Relief ( and the Boulder County AIDS Project (

Introduction by Jenny Borys, Boulder County AIDS Project

Post-screening interview and Q & A conducted by Brad Weismann, BIFF Social Media Director