I can’t believe that I have not yet written about Buskashi Boys, a short film directed by Sam French and shot here in Kabul (full video available below). Nominated for an Oscar in 2013 and recognised at numerous independent film awards, I feel it is a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in Afghanistan, its people and culture. It is only 20 minutes long and the storyline isn’t perfect, but it is as captivating as the cinematography is spectacular. I have spent a lot of time walking, pondering and photographing at the same locations, which only increases my admiration for the story and images they have brought to film. The obstacles were enormous.
The official website describes the movie as follows:
“Set against the dramatic landscape of contemporary Afghanistan and the National sport of Buzkashi – a brutal game of horse polo played with a dead goat – “Buzkashi Boys” is a ground-breaking narrative film about two best friends, a charismatic street urchin and a defiant blacksmith’s son, who strive to realize their dreams as they make their way to manhood in one of the most war-torn countries on Earth. Shot entirely on location in Kabul by an alliance of Afghan and international filmmakers, “Buzkashi Boys” is a heart-rending look at the life that continues beyond the headlines of war in Afghanistan.”
Betsy Sharky of the LA Times says:
“French shows exceptional intelligence and sensitivity in capturing the spirit of youth and the weight of duty that test the boys. Their intensity and confusion is matched by Kabul’s, a dusty, dramatic backdrop for this tale. The young stars, Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, are exceptional. Together they create a different truth of Afghanistan — impoverished boys with rich imaginations, who dream of horses and heroes not shaped by war. It gets my vote; it won my heart.”
Everyone who spends time in Afghanistan comes away with a different story, but most of them include descriptions of or allusions to a certain darkness that is unshakeable; it’s always there beneath the surface, when not actually intruding into view. When I arrived in Afghanistan in 2006, Seamus Murphy was concluding his project ‘A Darkness Visible‘ which was an epic 12 years in the making. I came across it quite a few years later and it resonated with me immediately. I could recognise the streets, the moments, the tension and, often, the combination of beauty and malevolence. A description I have heard used in this context is ‘toxic beauty’. Perhaps do a google search for Murphy’s images, because the website I have linked above sells the images short, IMO. I feel my own work in ‘Russians and Royals’, Murphy’s ‘A Darkness Visible’ and Buskashi boys all come from similar places and its unusual to immerse myself in the work of another and feel truly at home.
Afghanistan is invariably in the news because of the stories of death, destruction and relentless human suffering that dominate the media’s coverage. Much of this is true, sadly, but it is of course far from everything. Beneath the surface, struggling, oppressed and often driven beyond comprehension, lies all the human depth we recognise, love and admire in our own societies. Few journalists dig deep, but there are those who do; however, devoid of ‘bang bang’ their stories are often ignored and the pressure rises for them to once again chase the easy-to-sell stories. It is because of this that I feel drawn to any storyteller, artist or writer who brings the ordinary man, woman or child to life, who describes their context without western framing, or sensational news events. This is where the most compelling and heart-wrenching stories lie and in Buskashi Boys we are reminded once again that in trauma, sadly, we find our best ability to understand fellow humans.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT – SAM FRENCH
“I moved to Kabul in 2008 to pursue a gorgeous woman who had just gotten a job at the British Embassy. I arrived with barely any knowledge of the country, without a job, and expecting to be hunkered down in a bunker for the duration. But I found instead a culturally complex country full of stories. At the time, I had no idea I would still be working there four years later, long after my girlfriend had returned to the West.
Inspired by the people and places I had come to love, I collaborated with Martin Roe to write Buzkashi Boys in 2009. We hoped to describe a richer and more intimate view of Afghanistan than that seen in the Western media. We wanted to tell a story about two kids who have larger than life dreams, and show that even here, in a country wracked by war, the hope of a better life connects us all.
Partnering with Afghan-Canadian producer Ariel Nasr, we soon realized just what a massive undertaking we had embarked upon. As you may imagine, filming in Afghanistan presented numerous challenges, from finding actors, getting equipment into the country, to dealing with the cultural and logistical issues of a location based shoot in a warzone. But after over a year in pre-production, we convinced nine film professionals to fly to Afghanistan and commit to an extraordinary challenge — to make an ambitious film in a war-torn country with little infrastructure, while providing on the job training to emerging local film makers.
They took up the challenge, and I can say proudly that our initial vision has become a reality. We have a fantastic film in the can, and our Afghan trainees are now some of the most capable young media producers in the country.”
PRODUCER’S STATEMENT – ARIEL NASR
“Buzkashi Boys is an experiment in cross-border filmmaking, born out of a desire for collaboration between Afghan and international filmmakers. Our core team came to the project with many years experience working in Afghanistan, and a growing desire to give back to the Afghan film community.
Buzkashi Boys presented a new challenge at every turn, from rocket attacks near our shooting location to cultural differences and near disaster on the Buzkashi field. What kept us going was a shared love for film and the growing bond between Afghan and international crew.
After all, this was something new—an international crew making a world-class drama on location in Afghanistan, while training Afghan filmmakers. As we had discovered, Afghanistan is full of young filmmakers who continue to work despite conflict, lack of infrastructure and economic pressure. We hope that—with your help—this film will inspire the Afghan and international communities to pay attention to Afghanistan’s film industry, which is so full of talent and promise.”