Matt Zeller was a soldier in Afghanistan when he was caught in the middle of a battle in 2008. Two Taliban fighters were approaching him, and Matt was in a perilous position as shots rained around him. He thought he was about to die.
But luckily, he was body-checked by Janis Shinwari, an Afghan translator for a U.S. Army. Janis shot the two Taliban fighters about to take down Matt, giving Matt a new lease on life and sparking an incredible cross-cultural friendship.
Emmy-nominated documentarian Daniel Klein, under the auspices of James Beard Award-winning nonfiction film series The Perennial Plate, has put together an incredible true story about what a remarkable friendship can accomplish.
The film is a dual portrait on its surface, about two men who may come from different cultures and possess different temperaments, but shared the experience of fighting side by side in a war together. Matt is from a family with a long tradition of serving in the military; Janis was dismayed at what the Taliban had done to his country, and joined the effort as a translator working with the U.S. military.
It combines both artfully composed shots, rich sound design, emotionally engaging interviews and present-day footage from their everyday lives. The juxtapositions not only capture the two men’s stories with thoughtfulness, but gently interrogates what it means to be a U.S. veteran and ally, and how to show gratitude and repay their great sacrifice.
It also puts an important spotlight on the crucial work that translators do. As citizens of the war-torn countries they’re fighting in, they’re able to provide life-saving cultural context to the soldiers they work with.
But their work puts them in the cross-hairs of conflict — as when the Taliban put a bounty on Janis’s head. What Matt and Janis do in the face of this danger will warm hearts and spirits with generosity and inspiration, ultimately leading to the formation of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the allies who served with the U.S. in the Afghan and Iraqi wars.
“Brother” is a beautiful tribute to the bonds formed between soldiers, to what it means to save someone’s life and what that creates between two people. Heartwarming and engaging, it is ultimately a tribute to service — and to understanding how closely we are connected to one another, no matter how far apart we live.
For more information about No One Left Behind, visit http://www.nooneleft.org.