hmad and Rafi are your usual pre-teen boys. They want to play in the afternoon sun, hang out in the neighbourhood, and be part of some action. Ahmad is a street urchin, peddling smoke from a swinging can as life-changing effervescence for a living, while Rafi is a blacksmith's son, learning the trade that will sustain him. Like many others, they too have their set of heroes to idolise – only, in their case it is the raw masculinity of the Buzkashi riders that has them hooked to the game day after day. Sam French's Buzkashi Boys is a rare coming-of-age tale – rare because it is a glimpse into the everyday lives of a people drastically affected by conflict that has persisted for more than a few decades now.
Shot completely on location in a snow-capped Kabul, Buzkashi Boys is a simple tale about a young man experiencing loss in one of the harshest cities of the world. It is the first film to come out of the Afghan Project, a notable initiative started by three US and Canada based filmmakers – French, Ariel Nasr, and Leslie Knott.
"By 2010, we had all been working in Afghanistan for years and had a desire to give something back to the local film community. We decided to start an organization that could work towards two goals: building capacity in Afghanistan's film industry by training young filmmakers, and promoting the fledgling industry by making films that went beyond the war," explains Nasr, who has produced the movie.
||Contemporary Kabul is a dramatic and beautiful landscape, despite the problems and poverty in the city, and the film was meant to showcase this. — Ariel Nasr
In the film, while shooting larks at the Dar-ul-Aman, Rafi asks Ahmad in hushed ton es: "Who owns this place?" to which the young maverick replies: "I don't know; some king's". Through such deliberate silencing of the impact of war (such as the historical importance of King Amanullah's palace); they have kept the conflict on the backseat, which makes for a refreshing change.
"Much of the film was written to take advantage of the beauty of the setting. Contemporary Kabul is a dramatic and beautiful landscape, despite the problems and poverty in the city, and the film was meant to showcase this," says Nasr. They had a lot of support from the government of Afghanistan, with aids coming in from Afghan Film and the Ministry of Information and Culture, and security being provided by the National Police to the National Bus Service and the Ministry of Defence.
Nasr admits that it was quite challenging to shoot in Kabul. "On the first day of shooting, we were hit by the biggest snow storm in Kabul in four years. Later, there was a rocket attack on another one of our locations. One of our locations was a kind of graveyard for old buses, giving us a dramatic setting. During our schedule, the buses were sold for scrap metal to an international concern. We were forced to adjust as they began literally removing pieces of our location," he reminisces.
But finding the right acting talent for the film must've more than made up for it. They found Fawad Mohammadi, who plays Rafi, the lead character, on a popular street in Kabul where he sold maps to help his family. It was his natural charisma (and possibly his large green eyes) that convinced the producers that he was the right choice. Jawanmard Paiz (Ahmad) and Wali Talash (the blacksmith) were selected after long rounds of auditioning.
The film, crowd-funded in part through Kickstarter, has been gathering a lot of acclaim across the world. It was honoured as the best drama at the LA Shorts Festival and was named Best of Festival at Raindance in London, among others. "Audiences are captivated by the images of Afghanistan away from the front lines of the war and fascinated to watch a story about young Afghans coming of age. We hope that it ends with a question, allowing different audiences to interpret it in their own way," says Nasr.
Now, having made its way into the shortlist for an Oscars nomination in the Live Action Shorts category, the film is set to garner a still bigger audience. But ultimately, it is the project its"Afghanistan has an old and venerable tradition of storytelling. Afghan audiences love films, and are eager to watch movies that tell stories about their lives and their society, rather than imported movies. They have the talent and drive to make this happen. All they need is training and equipment. The best way to do this is to bring investment into the Afghan film industry by making films that build capacity among Afghan filmmakers," notes Nasr.