Ian Olds Inverts a Familiar Dynamic With His Debut Narrative Film 'Burn Country'

Olds took on the previous subject matter he covered as a war documentarian to explore it further in this character-driven narrative film.
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Documentary filmmaker Ian Olds's debut feature Burn Country is about an Afghan man adjusting to his new life in a bohemian Northern California town. Olds took on the previous subject matter he covered as a war documentarian to explore it further in this character-driven narrative film.

"Partly, I was done with documentaries, specifically this war-related stuff, which takes its own toll and I became really interested in this character," he tells The Moveable Fest. "I knew I didn’t want to tell a story about this specific guy necessarily, but to take this circumstance and use it as the very starting point. When Paul [Felten, the co-writer] and I started to explore the idea, we quickly came up with two organizing things that we were thinking a lot about. One was that we’re so used to seeing the stories of Afghans through the lens of war trauma, which is reductive [because it] doesn’t allow us to embrace the full complexity and full humanity of these guys, and second, we realized we had a chance to invert this very familiar dynamic — we’re all very aware of the films where the foreign journalist goes to see the war-torn land to report back to us, but we could make a film about an Afghan reporting on America. The final aspect of all this is that I grew up in this area in Northern California that is the setting for where Osman goes, so my own personal relationship to that place and my desire to see it with fresh eyes, [was part of the decision] to bring our Osman character there and have him confront this unusual, bohemian fraught space."

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