Kajaki. The True Story.

The Power Of The Crowd.

By Leilani Holmes.

A scene from KAJAKI. THE TRUE STORY.

Historically, British war films form a strong part of our cultural history yet for modern conflicts, the stories of British troops have been largely missing from our cinema screens. Until that is, director Paul Katis, writer Tom Williams and producer Andrew de Lotbinière of Pukka Films met a young soldier celebrating his 18th birthday during an MoD training film they’d been commissioned to make. Discovering he was to be in Afghanistan three weeks later they realised they knew nothing of what this young soldier’s experience was going to be and decided their first feature film should be about the everyman soldiers today, “It was a way of joining the dots between real people and what was happening in Afghanistan,” remembers de Lotbinière. “You listen to the news and read the stats, but you don’t always see the people behind those stories.”

“A lot of the work we do is based on case studies,” explains Williams. “We have a bit of experience in researching real events and crafting dramas around them.” Researching to find a suitable true story to adapt to the big screen they came across a unique situation featuring 3rd Batallion troops immobilised by a minefield in a difficult to reach wadi next to the Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The story was a single contained event that was not combat oriented but perfectly reflected the extraordinary courage shown by men on the ground looking out for one another under exigent circumstance. “As a single-location drama, it felt it would be great for us to do as a first feature,” says de Lotbinière. “It was a small film that we were much more likely to get budgeted and made.”

The film they eventually realised became an accurate portrayal of the situation that occurred when a rescue mission and helicopter evacuation for a wounded soldier escalated. Lance Corporal Stuart Hale, crossing what looked to be a harmless dry river bed had stepped on a land mine left behind from the Russian Afghan occupation of the 1980s. Losing a leg and left stranded and bleeding on lethal ground, the operation to treat his wounds and get him to a safe landing area for the helivac became complicated as essential personnel crossed the precarious surface to bring aid. Further explosions triggered during their efforts left seven men grievously injured and resulted in the subsequent death of Corporal Mark Wright a 27 year old from Edinburgh, posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery to mark his actions that day.

Drawing from personal accounts of those involved, official Army Board of Enquiry reports and with the assistance of the MoD, Tom Williams sought to layer multiple accounts into a screenplay telling the true story with an ensemble cast without needing to fictionalise or dramatize or add big names to the production. “It’s the film that Facebook made in a way,” Williams says, “because we put together a research group, and one friend invited another, invited another. The military are quite big on Facebook, because it’s a great way for them to stay in touch while they’re away, and so we started to gather the team on there.” With authoritative voices behind the project the film resonates with banter and military language that allows for authentic expression from the soldiers point of view while remaining easy for an audience to grasp in context.

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