'Retrograde' filmmaker seeks to spotlight those 'left behind' in Afghanistan

ABC News' Phil Lipof spoke with Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Matthew Heineman about his new documentary "Retrograde" about the final months of the war in Afghanistan.
7:22 | 12/08/22

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Transcript for 'Retrograde' filmmaker seeks to spotlight those 'left behind' in Afghanistan
 IT WAS THE SCARIEST MOMENT EVER. >> OUR THANKS TO REBECCA. THE DOCUMENTARY RETROGRADE CHRONICLES THE FINAL NINE MONTHS OF AMERICA 20-YEAR WAR AND AFGHANISTAN FROM PLENTY OF PERSPECTIVES. THE FILM, CAPTURING THAT CHAOS AND COMPLEXITY FROM RARELY SEEN OPERATIONAL CONTROL ROOMS TO THE FRONT LINES OF BATTLE TO THE -- AND ALSO PAINTS A VIVID PORTRAIT OF THE WORST IMPACT ON THE PEOPLE OF AFGHANISTAN. LET'S TAKE A LOOK. >> I WANT TO LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE PEACE IN OUR COUNTRY. SPEND TIME WITH MY FAMILY. GROW OLD IN AFGHANISTAN. AND ULTIMATELY, DIE IN AFGHANISTAN. >> ABC'S PHIL LIPOF HAD A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN WITH ACADEMY AWARD-NOMINATED AND EMMY REWARD WINNING DIRECTOR. HERE IS THEIR CONVERSATION. >> YOU COME OUT THIS FROM THREE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. ONE OF THE LAST U. S. UNITS DEPLOYED FROM AN AFGHAN GENERAL AND CIVILIANS DESPERATELY TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM THIS AS IT IS HAPPENING IN DOCTOR IT HAPPENED. YOU COULD HAVE IN YOUR STORYTELLING JUST FOLLOWED ONE OF THEM, AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN RIVETING, AND YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO TELL THE STORY. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FOLLOW IT FROM THREE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES? >> SO, THE JOURNEY STARTED SEVERAL YEARS AGO WITH A SOMEWHAT CLICHÉ IDEA OF TRYING TO DOCUMENT A DEPLOYMENT FROM BOTH THE SOLDIERS PERSPECTIVE AND A FAMILIES BACK HOME. BY THE TIME TO ACTUALLY DEPLOYED IT WAS JANUARY OF 2021 AND IT BECAME CLEAR LOOK, I ACTUALLY MAYBE DIDN'T TELL THE STORY ABOUT THE END OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN THROUGH THE PRISM OF THIS DEPLOYMENT. >> THE AMERICANS TRAINED ME, AND AFTER BEING COMMITTED FOR SO MANY YEARS, I JUST DON'T BELIEVE THAT THE AMERICANS ARE GOING TO RETROGRADE. AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY. >> AND SO, IT'S SORT OF, THAT IS OUR INITIAL PIVOT. THEN THREE YEARS OR MONTHS, IN THE FILMING, BIDEN PULLED OUT THE TRUTH AND THEY WENT HOME. IT JUST FALL AND WE HAVE THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY WHERE THE FIRST ACT OF THE STORY BUT IT WAS NOT OVER. SO WE REACHED BACK OUT TO THE GENERAL WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THE PROVINCE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN, HE HAD BEEN WORKING WITH THE GREEN BERETS, IT WAS A NATURAL EXTENSION OF WHAT WE HAD ALREADY STARTED. AT TIMES IT WAS TERRIFYING AND AT TIMES IT WAS EXHILARATING AND AT TIMES IT WAS SAD. IT WAS SOME OF THE NARRATIVE TENSION OF THE FILM, EVERY NEON SIGN, METAPHORICALL, WAS SAYING STOP, GIVE UP, SURRENDER, THIS IS OVER. AND THE GENERAL HAD THIS UNWAVERING BELIEVE HIMSELF, AND HIS MEN, THAT MAYBE, JUST MAYBE IF THEY HELD ON TO SOUTHERN AFGHANISTA, THAT THE COUNTRY WOULD PULL TOGETHER. >> TALK A BIT ABOUT THE EMOTIONS OF THESE U. S. SOLDIERS AS THIS WAS HAPPENING. >> THERE IS A REAL MOTIF OF LETTING FACES SPEAK MORE THAN WORDS COULD EVER SPEAK. YOU KNOW, FACES NEVER LIE. I THINK THIS IS A WINDOW INTO THE SOUL. WE ARE IN THE ROOM AS BIDEN ANNOUNCES ON TV THAT HE IS PULLING OUT THE TROOPS AND THEIR FACES ARE SPEAKING MORE THAN WORDS COULD EVER SPEAK AND THERE IS A SUBSEQUENT SCENE AFTERWARDS AS THEY TELL THEIR AFGHAN COUNTERPARTS THAT THEY ARE LEAVING. MANY OF THEM HAD WORKED FOR YEARS ALONGSIDE THESE AFGHANS. AND THEY ARE FRIENDS, THEY SHED BLOOD TOGETHER, THEY LOST FRIENDS TOGETHER, SO THERE IS A REAL SENSE OF ABANDONMENT. >> HOW ABOUT THE CIVILIANS, THE U. S. SOLDIERS FEEL ONE WAY, WHAT DID THE AFGHAN PEOPLE FEE? >> WE WERE PREPARED TO GO BACK TO HIS FILM THIS FINAL CHAPTER. THE FINAL BATTLE WITH THE TALIBAN. BY THE TIME WE GOT TO DUBAI, THINGS STARTED TO FALL QUITE RAPIDLY. AND THE DOOR THAT THIS OPENED WAS WINDING THE ABDUCTOR OF THE STORYTELLING TO SHOW THE CIVILIAN SIDE -- TO SHOW THE CIVILIANS THAT THE GENERAL AND HIS MAN HAD BEEN FIGHTING FOR -- WE STARTED TO FILM AT THE GATE, WE DECIDED TO FILM AT THE AIRPORT, GO OUTSIDE THE WIRE NOT KNOWING WHETHER TO COME BACK OR TO GET ON A FLIGHT. IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT TO SEE BOTH THE CITY UNDER TALIBAN RULE AND SEAVIEW SKATES AND THE DESPERATION OF THE CIVILIANS TRYING TO GET IN AND LEAVE. >> WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SHOOT IN THE MIDDLE OF WHAT REALLY WAS CHAOS, NOBODY KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT? >> DEFINITELY THE HARDEST FEW DAYS OF SHOOTING IN MY CAREER. THAT SCENE AT THE GATE WAS THOUSANDS OF AFGHAN CIVILIANS, AMERICAN PARTNERS, NATO PARTNERS PACKED LIKE SARDINES AND A FOUR-FOOT SEWAGE DITCH DESPERATELY TRYING TO FLEE AS THESE 18 YEAR OLD MARINES WERE MAKING THIS IMPOSSIBLE DECISION ON WHO DELIGHTED AND NOT LET HIM. THESE MARINES, MANY OF WHOM WEREN'T EVEN ALIVE WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS FELL. AS THE TALIBAN IS WATCHING US AT GUNPOINT 100 YARDS AWAY. AS ISIS WAS CIRCLING AROUND, AND READY TO ATTACK, WHICH HAPPENED IN THE VERY SAME SPOT 12 HOURS LATER. IT WAS JUST SURREAL. >> WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE BOMB WENT OFF? >> WE WERE JUST LEAVING WHEN IT WENT OFF. >> DO YOU KNOW IAN PANNELL? >> I SAW IAN. >> THE REPORTING HE DID SEEMS LIKE THE CHAOS, WATCHING FROM BACK HERE, NOT JUST AS A JOURNALIST BUT WATCHING AS AN AMERICAN WAS HARD TO COMPREHEND THAT SOMETHING THAT WE HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN FOR 20 YEARS COULD END LIKE THIS. I THINK THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE THINKING THAT. >> THIS FILM, AND ALL OF MY FILMS, REALLY, THEY ARE NOT AN ATTEMPT TO ARTICULATE, OR DISSECT WHAT WENT WRONG, WHO IS AT FAULT, OR HOW IT GOT HERE, OR WHERE WE ARE GOING. IT IS TRYING TO PUT A HUMAN FACE TO THIS HEADLINE THAT WE ARE PLASTERED WITH, AND I THINK THAT OUR WORLD IS SO DIVIDED, WE LIVE IN THESE ECHO CHAMBERS, AND TO ME THE VALUE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM IS TO INSTIGATE CONVERSATIONS, AND ALLOW PEOPLE FROM ALL DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM TO COME AND ARGUE, AND DEBATE, AND TO FEEL, AND TO CARE. >> YOU TALK ABOUT BEING EMOTIONAL. IS THERE ONE IMAGE THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND? >> I THINK IN MY MIND, IT IS FILLED WITH PROBABLY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF IMAGES. MANY OF WHICH I DREAM ABOUT AT NIGHT. I MEAN, THESE FILMS CHANGE YOU, RIGHT? THESE EXPERIENCES CHANGE YOU. THEY CERTAINLY HAVE CHANGED TO ME. AND I SUFFER FROM PTSD, ANXIETY, AND NIGHTMARES, THOUGHTS THAT I AM ASHAMED OF, AND IT IS IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT. THAT IS ON ONE HAND. ON THE OTHER HAND, I AM EXTRAORDINARILY PRIVILEGED. I HAVE BEEN BLUE PASSPORT, I GET TO COME, BACK SIT HERE AND TALK IN THE STUDIO WITH YOU, AND THAT IS A PRIVILEGE, YOU KNOW? >> IT SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN, AND YEAH, AMONGST MANY BLOWS I HOPE THAT THE RETROGRADE REIGNITES ACCOMMODATION AROUND THESE PEOPLE THAT WE LEFT BEHIND, THIS COUNTRY THAT WE LEFT BEHIND. >> OUR THANKS TO PHIL AND MATTHEW FOR THAT IMPORTANT CONVERSATION. RETROGRADE PREMIERS ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TOMORROW AND WILL BE AVAILABLE TO STREAM ON DISNEY+ AND HULU THIS WEEKEND.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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