Set in Afghanistan, Kandahar played the art house circuit a few years back. In it, a woman makes her way into Afghanistan to find her sister, and on the way she discovers what life is like under the Taliban. In one scene, a black American doctor searching for God in the Muslim world is portrayed by Hassan Abdulrahman.
You may have seen a news story at the time mentioning Abdulrahman and Kandahar, because it turns out that the actor is a wanted man. He assassinated an Iranian press attaché in Washington, D.C., in 1980.
Abdulrahman (born David Belfield) is the subject of the new documentary American Fugitive: The Truth about Hassan, by director Jean-Daniel LaFond. Most of the film is a talking-head interview with Abdulrahman, who now lives in Iran. Other analysts, authors, friends, and relatives are interviewed as well, but mostly the film is Hassan telling his story.
There is some shock value in seeing a composed, intelligent-seeming man admit to an assassination on camera, especially if you recognize him from Kandahar. It’s oddly powerful just seeing him living a free (if exiled) life, and speaking openly to a documentary filmmaker.
That is the hook that will draw you in. Once inside, you will find another reason to appreciate American Fugitive. It has a rich story arc surrounding a relatively simple main plot point. The fact of the 1980 assassination leads to all sorts of interesting questions that the movie answers in due time: why did Hassan do it? What led up to it? Who was his victim? What were the politics involved? How did he get away? What has he done with his life since then? Does he feel any remorse?
By staying narrowly focused on the assassination, but in exploring it deeply, the movie feels dense and informative.
The documentary has some weaknesses — it’s a bit static, visually, and it seems a bit gullible at times. But its narrow focus and rich depth make me feel like I’ve actually learned something about Iran-U.S. relations in the late 1970s (and not just about Hassan himself).