29 September 2011

The Boy Mir

Written by Published in Issue 29 - Maximise Read 2105 times

Peering round the camera lens with a mischievous grin, the sun-scorched face of eight-year-old Mir edges into frame near the beginning of Phil Grabsky’s documentary film The Boy Mir.

The Brighton-based film-maker decided to travel to Afghanistan after being haunted by a newspaper article about a US aircraft accidentally firing on an Afghan wedding. The pilot had reacted to a flash of celebratory gunfire, and turned a day of dancing and joy into one of misery as dozens were injured or lost their lives.

But he needed a human face to tell the story of a decade of turbulence in Afghanistan – ‘I thought, surely these people can’t all be bearded, malevolent males and burqa-wearing, hidden-away terrorists?’ – and there, stepping into the spotlight without prompting, was Mir.

The story begins in 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban, when Mir is living with his family in a cave near to the recently destroyed huge stone Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Existing in abject poverty, they face an everyday struggle to find the essentials of food and firewood. But Mir scampers around with a perpetual cheeky smile on his face while his frustrated parents bicker with a caustic aggression, and half-brother Khushdel ruminates gloomily on their future.

When they move back to their home village, Mir gradually transforms from a happy-go-lucky infant into a thoughtful, more serious adult in a journey captured over ten years of filming. He hankers after a mobile phone, cheerfully describes his two donkeys as ‘my motorbike and my jet plane’ and goes from dreaming of becoming ‘a headmaster ... or president!’ to realising that his future is far less assured.

Grabsky captures with heart-rending simplicity the growing pressure on Mir to abandon his education and help his ill and illiterate father support the family by herding goats and working in the coal mine. We then see Mir as a rugged-faced 18-year-old, and his journey into adulthood is complete – yet his future holds so many questions.

This is not a political film per se, and it is all the more fascinating and poignant for it. Grabsky has created an intimate portrait of an Afghan family which sits apart from most other documentary films about the country. The piece does not ignore the wider questions raised by the allies’ presence, and of the future of Afghanistan, but above all this is a film about people trying to live their lives against insurmountable odds.

Grabsky takes the conflict, anguish and humour which float to the surface of such a struggle and skilfully weaves them into a beautifully captivating and authentic portrait.

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