NEW YORK — During a night attack, as a Soviet tank approached, Mike Hoover accompanied an Afghan resistance fighter and filmed him firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the tank. The grenade missed.
Bad trouble. The tank fired back. Fortunately, it also missed.
Later, crouching in a ditch with guerrillas, Hoover filmed a Soviet armored personnel carrier that passed just 10 feet away.
"Incredibly high," he said when asked about the "pucker factor" involved. "Not only that, but there was a guy in the trench with us who wanted to attack it (the personnel carrier). All he had was an AK-47.
"So there was a wrestling match, trying to keep him from shooting."
Both close encounters with the Soviets, filmed last summer, are part of the footage by Hoover and his colleagues--including his wife, Beverly Johnson--airing tonight in "The Battle for Afghanistan," a CBS News special narrated by Dan Rather.
The footage has appeared at various times on the "CBS Evening News" over the past three years. It represents 18 trips by Hoover and his crews to film the guerrillas--called Moujahedeen--fighting the Soviets who invaded their country in 1979 and still occupy it.
Hoover, who readily admits that his heart is with the resistance fighters, isn't a regular CBS News staffer. He proposes stories about the fighting there to CBS and then--if they approve--he and his crews go in, with CBS News having first option on what they film, he said.
He doesn't consider himself a news cameraman, one of that hardy breed whose work, accompanied by dramatic music and basso profundo narration, used to appear only in movie theaters before TV news made it a nightly staple.
"I'm really kind of a film maker," said Hoover, who won an Academy Award for his 1984 documentary short "Up" following two previous Oscar nominations.
He has made a two-hour documentary--excerpts from which appear tonight--that he hopes to have released in theaters in the United States and Europe. Its focus, he said, is not so much on the war in Afghanistan, but on the guerrilla leader-physician, Dr. Sharuk Gran, seen in tonight's broadcast.
Nominated Monday for an Emmy Award for his Afghan coverage, Hoover, 43, is not new to news.
He went to Vietnam in 1968 on special assignment for NBC, filmed part of the pilot for ABC's "20/20" and made a documentary for ABC about a World War II Pacific battleground, "Return to Eniwetok," he said.
That he wound up filming the war in Afghanistan for CBS is due to circumstance, not design. He and his crew went to the area in 1983 to do a documentary on mountain climbing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Mountain climbing is a longstanding passion of Hoover's, which he has often combined with film making: from short films of his own to filming an expedition up Mt. Everest for CBS in 1976 and another up Autana in Venezuela for ABC in 1977.)
The Moujahedeen, although impoverished and busy fighting the Soviets, readily helped Hoover. Suddenly, he recalled, his project "seemed kind of selfish. . . . We said, 'Forget this, let's just do a film on them.' So instead of being in for three weeks, we were in for three months."
The resulting documentary, narrated by Charlton Heston, aired on ABC in 1984, Hoover said. Since then, his work in Afghanistan has continued for CBS on a proposal-by-proposal basis. CBS has yet to turn him down, he said.
Anchorman Rather, he added, "is really the muscle behind it. . . ."
Hoover was interviewed by phone from the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles where he was visiting friends, having recently returned from Afghanistan, where he filmed reports on the rebels' use of U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
The Denver-born cameraman-producer, who at 6-foot-5 tends to stand out in either a crowd or a war, tentatively plans to return to cover the war in September.
It's possible to be the traditional neutral journalist, he said, but he has found that in his coverage of the Afghan resistance fighters, "you tend to get involved with the people. . . . It's David and Goliath, and you're on little David's side.
"And, of course, they're protecting you at all times, and so you start using the word 'we.' "
One becomes closer to them, too, he said, in filming the casualties of war--the children, the war-maimed, the refugees from Soviet attacks on villages: "All these visions start taking their collective toll on you. And before you know it, you become very much on their side."
He laughed when asked if, while he was in that ditch with the eager-to-shoot resistance fighter, it crossed his mind that it might be a tad easier to earn a living filming commercials.
"Oh, sure," Hoover said. "Sure. But then when you're all done with that, what have you done?"