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Eight-year-old Mir and his family live in the mountains of Afghanistan. It’s 2001 and the long-oppressive Taliban regime has been toppled by U.S. and allied forces. Mir and his family have already fled from the Taliban and drought in their village in the North to the caves of Bamiyan. It’s here that filmmaker Phil Grabsky meets the boy, who peeps into his camera his very first day of filming.
Grabsky documented the boy for a year, resulting in 2003 documentary The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Buddhas were massive 6th century statues built into the cliffs of Bamiyan and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban. It’s one of many scars left from the regime. As Grabsky explains in the introduction of his latest doc, The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan, he sensed one year was not enough time to document the true impact of Afghanistan’s new realities, so he set about documenting Mir’s life over a decade’s time.
Mir is instantly infectious with his chubby cheeks and boyhood playfulness. In one scene, he giggles as he shows the filmmaker his “room,” a few blankets arranged in the small cold cave where his family lives. He’s prideful of his space despite his family’s extreme poverty. This picture of innocence hauntingly sticks with you as the film shows Mir growing up over ten years, his skin roughened and wrinkled even in that short time. Throughout these times he struggles to balance his attendance at school and the need to work to feed his family, a task his elderly father is unable to shoulder. Meanwhile, much older half-brother Kushdel, a second father of sorts to Mir, uses his own life as a cautionary tale of the destiny that awaits illiteracy.
Mir’s journey into manhood takes place throughout the war in Afghanistan, although the viewer only knows it from audio snippets of news reports and scenes of the family listening to the radio. Only once does Mir meet a couple of Humvees of American soldiers. He’s scared of their size and weapons but notices they’re scared too. Mir and his family are not victims of the violence of war but rather the other effects of it: a fractured country and a gap in humanitarian aid promised from foreign occupiers. It’s a side of Afghanistan rarely seen and one framed in a narrative that depicts the strength of the human spirit.
The Boy Mir- Ten Years in Afghanistan screens tonight at 7 p.m. at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. $10.