Retrograde: Matthew Heineman’s Potent Docu on the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Matthew Heineman on the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Heineman (Cartel Land) documents the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and its aftermath in his new documentary for National Geographic films, premiering in Telluride


Apolitical and disheartening, his potent work suggests feelings of sadness, disappointment and resignation.

The film, which Heineman shot with Tim Grucza and Olivier Sarbil, begins at the Kabul Airport in August 2021, showing desperate civilians, unprepared soldiers and overall chaos.

Retrograde goes back to January 2021, when a team of Green Berets is stationed in Helmand Province attempting to train 15,000 Afghan troops led by young general Sami Sadat.

Then President Biden announces that complete exit is coming soon. The Americans leave, but the filmmakers remain.

We see how General Sadat tries to perform without the American buttressing, unable to lead men whose support wanes. He speaks directly to the camera, or provides voiceovers to bridge scenes in what amounts to a picture of undeniable tragedy.


Telluride Film Festival
Production Companies: National Geographic, Our Time Projects
Director: Matthew Heineman
Producers: Heineman, Carolyn Bernstein
Exec-Producers: Baktash Ahadi, David Fialkow, Joedan Okun
Editors: Pablo Garza, Heineman, Grace Zahrah
Cinematography: Tim Grucza, Heineman, Olivier Sarbil
Composer: H. Scott Salinas
Running time: 95 minutes