Six months before 9/11, shocking media images appeared of the Taliban government dynamiting the 1450 year old Buddha statues at Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. The demolition in March 2001 followed a Taliban edict that all statues be destroyed.
It brought the regime’s determination to impose a severe interpretation of Islam on Afghanistan into sharp international focus.
The act shocked the West, although previously there had been little interest in the disastrous effects of a Western economic blockade on the country. No one much had commented on the thousands of children who suffered malnutrition or were maimed by mines.
The visual shock of this destruction is both the starting point and the counterpoint for this affecting and strikingly shot documentary.
It follows ten years in the life of a young village boy, Mir, under both the Taliban and US occupation.
Filmmaker Phil Grabsky made a bold and dangerous ten-year commitment. He filmed Mir as he developed from an eight year old to a young man considering army recruitment and escape.
The film is beautifully shot, although it underplays wider politics and the plundering of Afghanistan.
It tells of growing up in rural impoverishment—war and foreign occupation are a backdrop.
Grabsky says it is the story of “an ordinary boy living at an extraordinary time”. Mir is certainly representative of thousands in one of the world’s poorest countries.
But the cruelty imposed on him is neither ordinary nor acceptable.
The stark beauty of mountain landscapes contrasts with the hardship of Mir’s existence. His family are from the minority Hazara people. Initially Grabsky found them living in the Bamiyan caves, at the site where the Buddhas stood.
They were refugees, who fled war, the Taliban and drought. They had to sell their land and found themselves struggling alongside 200 other refugee families.
The film explores a life of endless poverty—cave living, cooking cow entrails on log fires, with plastic sheets and cardboard boxes for insulation against harsh mountain winters.
Yet the refugees have high aspirations—they believe in education and escape from poverty. The sharp and personable Mir wants to become a teacher—or president.
By 2005 Mir’s family have moved back to their original village house in the north. They are more settled now, with goats and chickens. But, like everyone, they face hardship.
Mir ploughs barren mountain pastures with donkeys, scythes corn and collects fire wood. His family lack medicine and wash from jugs.
To survive, Mir must now skip school and work at a treacherous coalmine for $4 a day.
By 2010 there is a village generator and Mir, now 18, has a motorbike. For the first time, US soldiers appear.
“They say they’re here for our security,” says Mir. “But no one around here has benefited from these foreign forces.”
Mir is right. The war has cost around $500 billion. Total aid has barely reached $30 billion. The necessary first step to giving people like Mir a real future is the withdrawal of foreign troops. This would allow the building of new clinics, schools, farm implements and irrigation canals.
The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan is released on 30 September. For local screening details visit www.theboymir.com