This 82nd Airborne veteran is the writer behind ‘Kandahar’, a new Gerard Butler feature film
Kandahar brings viewers on a heart-racing journey of an operator and his interpreter in the midst of a never-ending war and the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. It’s a real-life experience suddenly lighting up the big screen but every moment was lived by the military community, including the writer behind the movie.
Mitchell LaFortune, a Maine native, came from a long line of service. “My grandfather is a World War II veteran and served in the Pacific theater. He was one of those guys who joined before legally being able to. He was 15 or 16 and lied about his age to serve his country,” he shared. “His story was definitely a motivator for me but I also grew up watching 9/11 unfold.”
The terrorist attacks of that devastating day would shift everything. Though he pursued college after high school and always knew he wanted to write, the call to service never left. In 2005 he enlisted through the “College First” program with the intent to go into intelligence and a year later, LaFortune was in Army basic training.
“My follow on training for Intelligence was phenomenal and I was completely prepared for what I needed to do,” he added.
Before long, LaFortune was in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division and eventually, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Over and over again.
“The movie was definitely pulled from my first and second then last two deployments to Afghanistan where I was on the Iran border,” he said. “I wanted to tell the story of specifically how vulnerable you are as an American in a foreign combat zone. You're entirely reliant upon one specific individual because they can speak the language and for me, the heart of this movie is the relationship between an operator and his translator, which is something I experienced.”
Kandahar follows Tom Harris (Gerard Butler), a CIA operative who finds himself stuck in hostile territory on the Iranian border. After an intelligence leak exposes his identity and mission, it’s a race to get himself and his interpreter out and avoid the Iranian and Pakistani Special Forces units tasked with finding him.
“I finished writing the screenplay in 2016. We finally got a shoot schedule for the fall of 2021. All of a sudden it’s August of that year and Afghanistan is collapsing,” he said. “It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life, watching it all implode. I looked at my boxes of awards or even legacies like being battlefield promoted in Afghanistan and just couldn’t resonate it all. Veterans who fought in this war to save people are watching babies get thrown over fences and people fall to their deaths off a C-130.”
At the last minute, LaFortune was able to modify the film to really focus on getting the interpreter and a family out of Afghanistan. “I just wanted to focus on the values that we all have and at the end of the day, half a million veterans served in Afghanistan. Politics don’t matter, it's about the people and I personally spent a decade focused on creating a better future for Afghanistan,” he explained.
In his words, the movie is his “thank you” to Afghan allies, interpreters, Special Forces and the veterans who fought a war lasting a lifetime.
“For the rest of our lives, millions of people will be affected by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I can’t control anything in regard to U.S. foreign policy. I wish I could reverse a lot of things but I can’t. For me, this is my love letter of thanks to everyone involved,” LaFortune said. “This is a different kind of action movie in terms of authenticity as a spy film. All of the characters are based off of real people I interacted with. I think Afghanistan is going to be represented in a way that’s never been seen before.”
Kandahar was filmed mostly in Saudi Arabia and visually has the viewers immersed in the realistic scenery of Afghanistan. LaFortune also explained that the film shines a new light on countries like Pakistan and many competing factions simply trying to do what’s best for their people.
“Iran plays a large role in the movie and it's a complicated place undergoing an incredible amount of social change,” he said. “Though we have ‘villains’ in the story, it’s completely different from anything out there.”
So, why did this soldier-turned-writer set his sights on making movies? “I grew up in Maine and it was a small town where we had to drive 40 minutes to get to the movie theater. But it was a two-hour escape from life,” LaFortune shared. “It didn’t matter what movie it was, Rush Hour with Jackie Chan or an Oscar-nominated film, I loved it all. Throughout college, I wrote plays and movies.”
The making of Kandahar was always on his mind and the idea for the film continued developing through each tour he completed in Afghanistan. Knowing how deeply impactful the relationship is between an operator and an interpreter, seeing the film open on May 26, 2023 is so much more than a major action film debut as a writer.
It’s his way of ensuring the endless sacrifices of so many will never be forgotten.
“The interpreter I worked with in Afghanistan had a whole life in America. He was 65 years old with a family and business back in the States but he volunteered to be an interpreter simply because he wanted to help his country,” he said. “At one point the United States had 50,000 translators or interpreters working in Afghanistan. I get really emotional about the amount of sacrifice that people gave to the region and to the time in their lives. It really is my love letter to the military community and people who sacrificed their lives to go overseas for this mission and I just hope people come out and watch it.”
Moviegoers everywhere can watch Kandahar on May 26, 2023, in theaters.