Hell of a Nation

Two candidates struggle to participate in Afghanistan’s constitutional convention, a task almost as difficult as the country’s terrain itself.

Photo by Jessie Deeter, jessie@jessiedeeter.com
Wide Angle, Global Voices
Premiere Date
September 9, 2004
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2006 CINE Golden Eagle Awards-Special Jury Prize for Best News Analysis
  • Producer

    Tamara Gould

    Tamara Gould is former vice president of distribution for ITVS, as well as former executive producer for KQED Television where she oversaw The Nobel: Visions of Our Century; California’s Power Play; and This Week in Northern California. She also executive produced the Emmy award-winning weekly Independent View series, and developed and executive Show more produced SPARK, an award-winning weekly art series co-produced by KQED and the Bay Area Video Coalition, a noncommercial media production center where she previously served as executive director. Show less


    Bonni Cohen

    Bonni Cohen started Actual Films in 1998 with her partner and husband, Jon Shenk. Bonni recently co-directed and produced The Rape of Europa, a feature-length documentary for primetime PBS. The film is an adaptation of Lynn Nicholas’ National Book Award-winning history of the same name. Bonni also produced Wonders Are Many, a film by Jon Else about the Show more making of the John Adams’ opera, Doctor Atomic. It had its national television broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens series. In 2004, Bonni co-produced a film about Afghanistan’s constitutional process for PBS’s Wide Angle series. She also produced and directed a number of films for a PBS series called The New Heroes. Bonni produced and directed a one-hour special for national PBS entitled The Nobel: Visions of Our Century, an analysis of 100 years of the Nobel prize told from the perspectives of 11 different Nobel laureates. For the BBC Correspondent series, she directed and produced Eye of the Storm, an intimate, verité portrait of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York. Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in over 125 countries. She co-produced They Drew Fire, a feature documentary about the combat artists of World War II which aired nationally on PBS in 2000. Bonni is currently making a film for National Geographic’s Explorer series about Guantanamo Bay. Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and was based in London and Jerusalem. Show less

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    The Film

    In December 2003, Afghanistan was struggling to adopt a new constitution. Hell of a Nation goes behind the scenes of the December 2003 loya jirga (constitutional convention), which was held to formally ratify the new constitution. A difficult exercise in the best of times, this loya jirga carries the burden of Afghanistan’s unresolved peace process. After 30 years of war and upheaval, the security environment remains uncertain. It will be a crucial test of the ability of Afghanistan’s political community to compromise and craft a vision of a stable future based on a newly drafted constitution. It will also be a closely watched test of the ability of the United States to follow through on its promises to deliver democracy after regime change, particularly in a volatile Islamic context. Winning the war on terror means not only fighting Al Qaeda but ultimately creating the political stability that will prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists. The documentary begins two months prior to the December loya jirga and profiles two aspiring Afghan delegates who face political opposition and physical intimidation as they literally risk their lives to participate in the future of their country. Both candidates labor to deliver their political messages in communities with no mass media and very little infrastructure. The road to become a delegate is almost as difficult as the terrain itself; only a fraction of Afghans will ultimately be elected.Hell of a Nation provides a rare opportunity to observe the difficulties of defining the role of religion in a new democracy and to witness the practical implementation of nation building in a war-torn country.