RETROGRADE captures the final nine months of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan from multiple perspectives: one of the last U.S. Special Forces units deployed there, a young Afghan general and his corps fighting to defend their homeland against all odds, and the civilians desperately attempting to flee as the country collapses and the Taliban take over. From rarely seen operational control rooms to the frontlines of battle to the chaotic Kabul airport during the final U.S. withdrawal, Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s latest film offers a cinematic and historic window onto the end of America’s longest war, and the costs endured for those most intimately involved.
Meet the Filmmakers
MATTHEW HEINEMANDIRECTOR, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, EDITOR
Matthew Heineman is an Academy Award®-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. The Sundance Film Festival called Heineman “one of the most talented and exciting documentary filmmakers working today”, while Anne Thompson of IndieWire wrote that Heineman is a "respected and gifted filmmaker who combines gonzo fearlessness with empathetic sensitivity.”
Heineman most recently directed and produced RETROGRADE, which offers a cinematic and historic window onto the end of America's twenty-year war in Afghanistan and the costs endured for those most intimately involved from rarely seen operational control rooms to the frontlines of battle to the chaotic Kabul airport during the final U.S. withdrawal. The feature documentary from National Geographic Films premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2022, where it received wide-spread critical acclaim. The Wrap commended the film as "a triumph of access and unbelievable bravery," while Salon called it “chilling” extolling that “Heineman has become famous for a cinéma vérité approach that avoids both interviews and voiceovers, but this film takes that signature style to an entirely new level of art." The Times proclaimed it “hair-raising” and that “the craft of Heineman’s movies is remarkable. He creates some of the most beautiful images in documentary film-making today.” Following the November 2022 theatrical release, RETROGRADE will premiere on National Geographic Channel on December 8th, 2022 before becoming available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu in the following days.
Prior to RETROGRADE, Heineman directed, produced, shot and edited THE FIRST WAVE, a feature documentary film with exclusive access inside one of New York City’s hardest-hit hospital systems during the harrowing first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE FIRST WAVE received the International Documentary Association’s prestigious Pare Lorentz Award, was shortlisted for an Academy Award®, and was nominated for seven Emmy® awards, winning Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing. The film was a New York Times Critics’ Pick hailed by The Hollywood Reporter as a “masterfully crafted film” and Variety as “a courageous and astonishing cinematic time capsule.” Released by National Geographic Documentary Films and NEON, the film is currently available on Hulu.
Previously, Heineman directed Amazon’s THE BOY FROM MEDELLÍN, an astonishingly intimate portrait of international superstar J Balvin that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before being released by Amazon Studios. Additionally, Heineman co-directed with Matthew Hamachek the Emmy® winning two-part documentary TIGER, which he also executive produced. The documentary, which was released by HBO in two parts in January 2021, offers a revealing look at the rise, fall, and epic comeback of global icon Tiger Woods.
In 2019, he received a nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First Time Feature Film Director from the Directors Guild of America for his narrative debut, A PRIVATE WAR—making Heineman and Martin Scorsese the only filmmakers ever nominated for both narrative and documentary DGA Awards. A PRIVATE WAR stars Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci, and Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike as legendary war reporter Marie Colvin. The film premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival before being released nationwide by Aviron Pictures. It was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, and Variety hailed the film as “Heineman’s astonishing narrative debut” and “an incredibly sophisticated, psychologically immersive film.” A PRIVATE WAR also earned two Golden Globe® nominations for Best Actress and Best Original Song.
Heineman directed and executive produced THE TRADE, a Showtime docu-series that chronicles a different topic each season, from the opioid crisis to human trafficking, through the eyes of those most affected. It was described by The Hollywood Reporter as “a thriller…like TRAFFIC only current and real”, while the New York Times said, “Heineman has shown an uncanny ability to gain access to hard-to-reach people and places." Both seasons of the show premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received overwhelming critical acclaim and awards recognition. It won Best Episodic Series at the 2018 IDA Awards for season one, as well as two News & Documentary Emmy Awards for season two, including Outstanding Direction for Heineman.
His documentary film CITY OF GHOSTS, which follows a group of citizen-journalists exposing the horrors of ISIS, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed worldwide by Amazon Studios before having its broadcast premiere on A&E. Heineman won his second Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Award from the DGA for the film—one of only three directors to win the prestigious honor twice. CITY OF GHOSTS also won the Courage Under Fire Award from the International Documentary Association “in recognition of conspicuous bravery in the pursuit of truth” and was listed on over 20 critics and year-end lists for Best Documentary of 2017. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA Award, PGA Award, IDA Award, and Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.
CARTEL LAND, which explores vigilantes taking on the Mexican drug cartels, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and Best Cinematography. The film premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where Heineman won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Prize for Cinematography. CARTEL LAND was also awarded the Courage Under Fire Award, the DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary, and the George Polk Award in Journalism. The film was released theatrically nationwide by The Orchard and had its broadcast premiere on A&E.
He previously co-directed and produced the feature-length, Emmy-nominated documentary ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare; collaborated for two years on the Emmy-nominated HBO series, THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT; and also directed and produced OUR TIME, his first documentary about what it's like to be young in America.
Heineman founded Our Time Projects, a New York Based production company that produced some of Heineman’s gripping and unprecedented films such as CITY OF GHOSTS and RETROGRADE in 2009. Heineman, a 2005 graduate of Dartmouth College, is currently based in New York City.
Caitlin McNally is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist. She has worked on films with National Geographic, PBS, Netflix and HBO, as well as other major U.S. and international outlets. She was a fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, a recipient of the Fund for Investigative Journalism Grant, and a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute.
McNally acted as senior producer on “Chain of Command,” an eight-part documentary series for National Geographic about the U.S. military’s fight against violent extremism across the globe, for which she developed, produced and directed coverage in half a dozen countries with multiple branches of the armed services, including extensive work with Special Operations Forces.
For “Frontline,” McNally wrote, directed and produced the award-winning documentary “Stickup Kid,” about a young Black man who grew up in an adult prison. “Stickup Kid” is one of the most-watched films of all time on “Frontline”’s YouTube site and is consistently used in classrooms as a teaching tool regarding youth in the criminal justice system. Her other credits for “Frontline” include the Peabody Award-winning film “League of Denial,” “Football High,” “Digital Nation,” “Growing Up Online,” “Congo: On the Trail of an AK-47” and “A Hidden Life.”
McNally has directed an episode of a national PBS history series hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., reported for WGBH’S GlobalPost from the Arctic and Antarctica, and worked as part of a team producing and reporting an Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary about Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. McNally is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a native of Minnesota. She lives in Texas with her husband, daughter and son.
BAKTASH AHADIEXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Baktash Ahadi is a cultural strategist, advisor, facilitator and award-winning documentary filmmaker. He was born in Kabul in 1981, and his family fled during the Soviet invasion in 1984. After spending nearly two years in Pakistan between refugee camps and makeshift homes, his family was given asylum in the United States, where they started their new life in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The tragic events of 9/11 led Ahadi to serve in the Peace Corps in Mozambique and return to Afghanistan to serve as a combat interpreter with the Marines for three years. His experience not only brought him closer to his roots but also instilled a passion for storytelling to shed light on the complexities of the human condition. As a result, he founded The Taleem Project, which is dedicated to telling human stories of forced migration, conflict, refugees, and vulnerable and underrepresented communities. He has produced, translated and contributed to the following documentary films: “Frame by Frame,” “Afghanistan by Choice,” “With This Breath I Fly” and “Muslim in Trump’s America.” These films have screened at SXSW Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Hot Docs, BFI London Film Festival, AFI DOCS and hundreds of other festivals. Moreover, these films have won dozens of jury and audience awards, Cinema Eye Honors nominations, and the Peabody Award.
He speaks to audiences around the world and has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio (NPR), Business Insider, BBC, TIME Magazine, and The Atlantic. He is currently at work writing a memoir about his service in Afghanistan and co-directing a film about the lives of newly arrived refugees to America.
Director and Producer Matthew Heineman
Produced by Caitlin McNally
Executive Producers Carolyn Bernstein, Baktash Ahadi, David Fialkow, Joedan Okun
Cinematographers Tim Grucza, Matthew Heineman, Olivier Sarbil
Editors Pablo Garza, Matthew Heineman, Grace Zahrah