Phil Grabsky, the British director of the documentary The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan (2004), has come up with yet another thought provoking film, The Boy Mir: coming of age in Afghanistan. This time with another persistent film maker, Shoaib Sharifi, an Afghan national and journalist at the BBC world service.
The Boy Mir picks up where the 2004 documentary left off. It follows the same Hazara boy Mir from age 8 to roughly 18 and illustrates the hardships of rural life in Afghanistan. The film was shot over a period of ten years during which time the two filmmakers made extended trips to Afghanistan and stayed with Mir and his family.
The village in which the film takes place is in large part isolated from the battles spreading throughout the country, and knowledge of American and British forces is recounted second hand. Its whereabouts and the location of Mir’s home has never been disclosed to the public for fear of kidnapping and to preserve the family’s privacy. Their involvement in national and international politics is minimal, and they are not religious extremists. It is an ongoing struggle to survive within the harsh reality of the country, which is all too much out of the family’s control.
The footage captured is highly intimate, as the filmmakers become privy to the family’s daily concerns. Mir’s parents insist that he attend school so that he can lead an easier life than that with which he was brought up. Meanwhile, his attendance is dependant upon external conditions. He frequently skips lessons in order to tend to the family’s livestock, as his father’s poor health prevents him from doing so. Food is scarce, and the film captures quotidian bickering between the parents about work and money, and how they will continue to survive in their poorest of days.
Grabsky and Sharifi’s arrivals and departures to the village were always unannounced. The British filmmaker’s life had been threatened by members of the community, which made documenting a delicate operation. He feared being thrown in jail for having a camera, blown up by a landmine, or kidnapped. He and Sharifi slept most nights on the floor of the local school as to not impose of the family. At times when Grabsky travelled alone, he would occasionally spend the night in Mir’s home, which meant that the women in the house would sleep on the kitchen floor. In this household where cow stomach, stale bread and tea made up the majority of the diet, the filmmakers always made sure to bring their own food to ensure that they would not take away from the the family’s minimal resources.
At the end of this remarkable journey with the Hazara family, Grabsky felt a great deal of responsibility towards ensuring a safe future for Mir and his family. He thus started a fund for Mir, and Sharifi has opened a bank account for the family. They are hopeful that the film and any donations by the audience towards Mir’s fund will make a difference to the quality of life and future of the Boy Mir.