When two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and another into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, something in the world changed. America was quick to declare war on terrorists as if they were their own country. A man named Bin Laden was christened the leader for the nation of Terrorisma and along with a couple of cronies, became the most wanted man in the world. So much so that U.S. President George W. Bush and a few of his buddies sent their armies to Afghanistan.
Although the battle may have been against the dubious residents of Terrorisma, it was the people of Afghanistan who paid the price. A backward nation where war has been the norm for more than 20 years, the Afghan people were given nary a voice in the newspapers and on television. In “Afghan Stories,” a handful of Afghan people finally get a platform. Although most of the documentary takes place away from the battlefront, it is still important because it attempts to explain how the people are thinking on the other side of the world where they’ve lost more than a couple of buildings and planes.
Literally days after war was declared on Terrorisma and Afghanistan became the target, filmmakers Taran Davies and Walied Osman made their way to the edge of the frontlines and into the homes of those most affected by the flying bullets and falling bombs. There are stories of men living alone, having sent their families to live elsewhere in the world where things are better – civilized. There’re warlords whose charge for passage into and out of a village is a simple sit down. Dead brothers, hungry children, wandering dogs – the Afghan people are suffering. Yet somewhere in there, some people have hope for the future. They’re not so much adverse to the fighting, but of being oppressed and ignored for all this time.
It’s hard to understand how natural the subjects of “Afghan Stories” are acting in front of the camera. Scenes in public are littered with children staring straight into the lens as if there was a booger hanging out of its nose or its fly was undone. Natural or not, the footage penetrates the souls of the people. Such a simple gesture the camera is, yet so telling in how starved these people are for attention. Despite the tension of being outsiders in the hostile land, Davies and Osman are respectful and patient with their subjects. They don’t take sides, being critical of both the American-led campaign and the lack of passion from the Afghan people. A couple of their hosts become comfortable in front of the camera, trading a deer-in-headlights reaction for openness and honesty. These brief moments bare the heart of the people and the soul of Afghanistan.
Sadly, these moments are few in number and brief in duration. It’s not so much the fault of Davies, who also wrote and directed, but the pressure of time and an expanding war. Even still, “Afghan Stories” delves much deeper than anything that I’ve seen or read on Afghanistan other than the sensationalist pieces on the leaders of Terrorisma and how well the war is going where the only sources come from one-sided White House briefings.
The world has changed. It’s bigger and smaller at the same time. Rather than ignore our new neighbors, it’s time we take the sweet loaf and jelly mold next door and get to know them and listen to what’s going on through a different set of eyes. It’s films like “Afghan Stories” that will hopefully begin to act as an educational icebreaker.