The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan, a feature documentary now making the rounds at film festivals worldwide, offers an intimate perspective of daily life in Afghanistan rarely seen by western audiences. Over a period of a decade, British filmmaker Phil Grabsky returned repeatedly to this war-ravaged country to visit Mir, a young boy living with his family in remote villages far – but not untouched – by the battles raging throughout the country.
Only eight years old when we first meet him, Mir grows into a young man, with hopes and dreams of a better for himself and his family. His family, at times, is literally dirt poor –living in mountain dug-outs high above the plain, struggling daily to survive. He understands that school is the key to his future, but his attendance is spotty and inconsistent – he must tend to his family’s livestock more and more, as his father is in failing health and is less able to perform the arduous work necessary for the family to survive.
Mir’s life will seem surprisingly familiar to the western audience. Material desires – for bikes and motorbikes – will dominate his thoughts for a time, and as he grows older and the family’s life marginally improves, he dominates use of the family’s new cell phone with calls to girls in distant towns. As he grows, he also develops an awareness of his situation, his future, and what he must to succeed beyond his family’s bare existence.
National and international politics are distant here – but never out of mind. They’ve fled to the remote mountain settlement because of the incursion of the Taliban; they return to when the Taliban are on the run. These are simple people struggling to survive in a world hopelessly beyond their control. They’re not religious zealots, or freedom fighters. Like most people around the world, they only want to live their lives in peace.
Knowledge of the Americans and British are mostly anecdotal in this remote enclave. During one tribal meeting, an attendee struggles to understand the relationship between the two allied nations, asking if the U.K. is part of the U.S. (he’s corrected by wiser villagers). When several American troops in a pair of military vehicles tentatively visit the town, villagers are gracious, but puzzled by the visit, and the peculiar gifts they’re given by the American soldiers.
The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan is actually a follow-up to Grabsky’s award-winning film, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, featuring Mir and his family when they lived in the shadow of what once were gigantic and ancient statues of Buddha, blown to rubble during the Taliban’s reign.
Mir – the boy and the film – has an abundance of energy and hope for his future – though the road ahead is still unclear. For anyone struggling to truly understand the people of Afghanistan, this film provides an exceptional and moving introduction.