The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan
Credits: Directed by Phil Grabsky
Synopsis: This documentary tracks cheeky, enthusiastic Mir over 10 years as he journys into early adulthood in one of the toughest places on earth.
An intimate portrait of a poor boy’s progress towards manhood in a troubled country.
BYRON BAY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Phil Grabsky’s fly-on-the-wall documentary is a fascinating although flawed account of 10 years in the life of one of the innocent young victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan is a welcome sequel to his 2004 opus The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
As a microcosm of a society ravaged by war and poverty, the doco has an uplifting message as it concludes that young Mir, his family and fellow villagers have experienced improvements in their quality of life, although it’s still a hard-scrabble existence.
Prior knowledge of the original work isn’t required because the follow-up incorporates some 20 minutes of the first film. The starting point is startling TV footage of the Taliban blowing up centuries-old stone Buddhas in the province of Bamiyan in 2001.
Mir, then aged 8, and his family were among more than 200 families living in caves in Bamiyan. After they missed out on getting one of 100 new homes built with foreign aid, they decided to return to their home village in the north.
Grabsky visits them once a year, from 2005 until 2010, chronicling Mir’s progression from an effervescent, extroverted, impish kid who dreams of becoming a headmaster or the country’s president, into a thoughtful but occasionally rebellious teenager.
At 13, the lad is forced to work in a small coal mine – a hazardous occupation as five people had just been killed when a gas lamp exploded – which interrupts his schooling.
Despite spending so much time with Mir, Grabsky neglects to ask about his opinions on the war, the Taliban and the allied forces, beyond his admission that he doesn’t want to join the Army for fear of being killed or wounded.
It’s left to a local militia man to express a possibly widely held view that the US and British troops are ineffective in fighting the insurgents, declaring, “We’ll never be friends with the Americans or English; we’re just using them.”
Grabsky and his fellow cinematographer Shoaib Sharifi devote a lot of screen time to filming Mir’s day-to-day life as he ploughs rocky fields, initially with donkeys then cows, bathes, herds goats, helps to repair their wrecked house, rides his bicycle without brakes and later a motor bike, much of which becomes repetitive and tiresome.
Arguably Mir is upstaged by Khushdel, who is his half-brother and brother-in-law, and his father Abdul, a plain-speaking man whose favourite expression is “Sod it.” Khushdel, who’s illiterate, works as a labourer and warns Mir his life will amount to nothing unless he finishes school.
The family’s dynamics are intriguing and occasionally make for uncomfortable viewing as the relationship between Abdul and his unhappy, carping wife turns poisonous.
Grabsky skilfully uses voice-overs such as then President George W. Bush’s declaration that “the Taliban is now out of business” as a stark contrast to the realities of living in the troubled country.
Khushdel, who’s as adept at speaking to the camera as Mir, perhaps best sums up modern-day life in Afghanistan when he says, “I can see that, despite everything, the situation is definitely better now.”
Peace, however, is fragile. Grabsky intended to visit Afghanistan to show The Boy Mir to the family last year but his trip was cancelled after an explosion killed 14 people in the city closest to Mir's village.
The photography in the often unforgiving landscapes is stunning. Kudos to Grabsky and Sharifi who endured their own hardships in making the doco, sleeping rough on the floor of the local village school and spending one night in a cave with Mir and Khushdel.
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