Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany 2016

Synopsis

A gang of Afghan kids from the Kuchi tribe dig out old Soviet mines and sell the explosives to children working in a lapis lazuli mine. When not dreaming of the time when American troops finally withdraw from their land, another gang of children keeps tight control on the caravans smuggling the blue gemstones through the arid mountains of Pamir.

Directors Statement

Thirty years of Soviet occupation, Mujaheddin civil war and the Taliban regime have plunged Afghanistan back into the middle ages, especially
in the arid and barren mountain provinces. Despite 14 years of reconstruction by the international community, the population distrusts foreign aid and the Afghan government remains unstable and corrupt. The Taliban are indirectly financed by Pakistani and American secret services and the opium harvest is breaking records. The gap between rich and poor is widening conspicuously. SUVs drive back and forth on the streets of Kabul and drug-financed villas shoot up like mushrooms. Having returned from Iran and Pakistan, heroin-addicted Afghan refugees live in Kabul underneath bridges or in war ruins. Most of the refugees who returned from border camps have lost all contact with their family. Despite the local populations’ increasing frustration vis-à-vis western intervention, a lot of Afghans fear that a new civil war will break out as soon as the international troops have left the country in 2016. People fear the return of the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups to fill the gap left by the Westerners. There is an immense shortage of educated people to put the country back on track.
In June 2007, I left for Afghanistan to make photo reports for the International Red Cross, Caritas Germany, Demining, Dutch Committee for Afghanistan, etc... I crossed the Hindu Kush mountains with my Afghan friend Gholam Hassan via the Wakhan Corridor towards “the Roof of the World” – the frontier zone between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and China – looking for the country’s various ethnic groups. Then came
six long treks across different regions of Afghanistan to improve my understanding of the various languages, cultures and customs.
Scouting locations for the film, I also spent time with American and ISAF troops on various occasions. What Western media show us are the leading political issues, the disputed presence of NATO and American troops in
a country that has no future. There is a strong divergence between the Afghans’ view of the future of their country and how the international community attempts to impose a democratic system based on western values. An American officer once told me: “We have to make these people familiar with the material world in order to give them something to fight for.”
So I decided to focus on the children born during wartime, in an attempt to understand how they experience and perceive life in wartime. I have met children who work in surreal conditions, doing incredible jobs to survive and feed their families. In a country where life expectancy is 43, people start working at the age of 8 and start a family when they are 14.
The children’s incessant struggle forces them to become completely independent at a very young age. They are determined to solve any problem, possess an unfaltering talent for improvisation and an inexhaustible eagerness to learn. Their archaic and traditional way of life, closely connected with nature and their system of values and entirely devoid of western materialist influence, increasingly wraps the children up inside a magic world of their own. The purpose of their actions
always prevails over the possible consequences. The boundaries between reason and folly, life and death, have become blurred. There is no grey zone between black and white. Constant optimism and endless struggle against the mighty. They all desire to become the leader of a gang as soon as they reach the age of 12. They are powerful yet pure children who make radical decisions without any compromise. Despite their childlike imagination and naiveté, they are grownups who will never have had the time to be children.
In my film I wanted to tell the reality of Afghanistan as seen through these children’s eyes. The film depicts four groups of children in four different regions of Afghanistan, all involved in commercial exchange and war trafficking, united by the will to survive by means of mutual exchange of experience.
The film is an odyssey across Afghanistan, with Gholam Nasir and his gang as our guides, following the smuggling of opium and the course of the weapons they recycle, the lapis lazuli they extract and the opium they cultivate, receive as payment or sell for cash, to arm the Taliban and feed the war, or to convince an opium-addicted father to marry his beautiful daughter.
The film is intended as a mixture of reality and dream. Immersed in
the daily reality of the children, it seeks to convey their views, feelings, dreams and expectations. The imaginary scenes depicted are visual representations of the stories told and experienced by the children.
The idea is to get inside their head. They experience the violence and extremes of war in a mixture of dream and reality. We hope the film will communicate that experience.
This is an intimate story of a handful of children, about a reality unknown in the West. while the world concentrates on the international community, the withdrawal of U.S. troops and NATO, and in this historical moment wonders what post-2016 Afghanistan will be like.

- Pieter-Jan De Pue

Biography

Pieter-Jan De Pue is an independent filmmaker and photographer who graduated from the RITS film academy in Brussels. While directing commercials, he was concentrating on his first feature documentary, The Land of the Enlightened. He has travelled for long periods of time in Afghanistan, photographing the country and its people for organizations such as the International Red Cross, Caritas International, the UN and international Demining organizations. His photographic work on Afghanistan and Central Asia has been published in Weekend Knack, Le Monde, DeMorgen, De Standaard, and has been exhibited in several galleries and museums such as Photo Museum Antwerp, deBuren in Brussels and the Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris. In between film and photo projects abroad, he has worked as a film director and photographer on several book projects and museums. Pieter- Jan is connected to the German photo agency LAIF.

READ the interview with director Pieter-Jan De Pue
 | 

Cast & Crew

Directed by : Pieter-Jan De Pue

Written by : Pieter-Jan De Pue, David Dusa

Produced by : Bart van Langendonck

Director of Photography : Pieter-Jan De Pue

Editor : David Dusa, Stijn Deconinck

Composer : Denis Clohessy

Sound Design : Robert Flanagan

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2016
  • EFA Documentary Selection 2016