Life & Limb
2020 Finalist

Life & Limb

Stuff Ltd

Wellington, New Zealand

Category Video

Overview of this campaign

New Zealand went to Afghanistan in 2003 on a 'hearts and minds' mission. So the prospect of civilian deaths for which our country might be responsible was important to investigate.

We travelled to Afghanistan to film the facts: were there deaths and injuries of civilians? How many? Were they connected with our firing ranges? Were New Zealand authorities aware? Had they done anything about it?

We knew there was a UN database which detailed nine separate incidents, but before we even arrived in Afghanistan, we got hold of documentation in which the Defence Force stated that none of the incidents had been directly linked to its activities, and that it had cleared the main firing range in question. How could that be so at odds with what we'd been told by others? 

We wanted to track down injured survivors and the families of those who'd been killed - to put faces to names so our audience could connect on a human level: that these are not just unnamed people in a faraway land; they are mothers, brothers and sons who'd suffered great loss. 

It was important also to speak to the UN, to local investigators, de-miners, and elders, and to track down documentation to get as full a picture as possible, to establish whether what the Defence Force claimed, was right.

We wanted to use cinematic video to capture the enormity of the story in a way print simply couldn't. We envisaged a documentary which would respectfully do justice to the subject matter, which would let the story unfold, and which would hold the New Zealand Defence Force and Government to account, if indeed we were complicit in the deaths and injuries of so many civilians. 

Ultimately, we wanted to achieve something for the locals of Bamyan: to get the firing ranges cleared so nobody else would die.

Results for this campaign

Our video investigation Life & Limb revealed 17 Afghan civilians had been killed or injured on New Zealand firing ranges. 

Within 24 hours of our documentary being published, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, summoned Defence Force chiefs to Parliament, and ordered them to urgently clean up the New Zealand firing ranges in Afghanistan of unexploded ordnance.

As well as the political victory brought about by the documentary, we also met our goals of sensitively revealing the human cost of the Defence Force's failure to clean up its firing ranges.

Life & Limb used documentary storytelling to unfold the story of exactly what had happened, to whom, and where: and the facts were in stark contrast to what the New Zealand Defence Force had told us. We met the families and survivors, filmed interviews with investigators and elders, and unearthed documentation. 

We structured and edited the video in a way which we hoped would pull the viewer in and keep them. These were important revelations so we chose opening and closing shots of three mothers grieving their seven children, killed in one explosion, because we wanted to provide an instant way for people to connect, and then stay - because the revelations just kept coming. 


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