Q– “Buzkashi Boys” was produced by the Afghan Film Project. Tell us more about this organization.
Ariel Nasr– Afghan Film Project is a non-profit NGO that was created by me, Sam French and Leslei Knott. We met in 2005 and decided to provide training sessions for young Afghan filmmakers. After months of searching for funding opportunities, we started combining workshops and film production. Sam had a script for “Buzkashi Boys” and we organized a training project around the film. About 12 volunteers from around the world joined the project as well as many experienced cinematographers who came to make the workshops. It was the first project by our company and a successful one at that, considering the Oscar nomination.
Our purpose was to approach an Afghan audience as well as internationally, building the bridge between them.
Last year we started another project. We are currently looking for an executive director who is interested in supporting young Afghan filmmakers.
AN– It was a challenge. There was security and safety problems, every little thing could have been a problem. We needed good will and cooperation of the people and communities involved there. But we worked it out and it was a very gratifying experience. By the end of the pre-production period we had a really great cooperation from the community there.
Q– What is the main message of the film?
AN– You know, more than to have a message we wanted to have a question. We wanted people to see Afghanistan beyond the headlines of the war, to feel the connection with people in Afghanistan who have the same challenges, the same dreams as they do. We wanted to show a kid who is coming of age and has to make difficult decisions for the first time.
Generally, film is not the best media used for information or transmitting facts to people. But what the film really does is create an emotional connection with people who are very far away, who are separated both by cultural and physical distance. As a producer of this film to me, it was important to counteract the fear and distance that people have to Afghanistan due to the media that shows only danger, destruction and poverty. I try to introduce the different perspective and to show that, despite the difficult cultural situation and war, Afghan people are like people around the world.
The film has also an idea of tradition versus dreams within the Afghan context: a young man who has a dream he wants to achieve but he must follow the tradition of his family. But we leave that as an open question: he made a decision, you can see it in his eyes, but we don’t say which one.
Q– From all the cultural aspects why did you choose Buzkashi? A game that is a very specific expression of sport.
AN– In the film, I think it works visually as a representation of freedom from a child’s eyes. You have speed, you have energy and you have a man on horseback. The story is about a child growing up and at the end you might wonder, does he still see Buzkashi containing this freedom after he experiences the lost of his friend.
Q– What about the Oscars: did you expect that you would be nominated?
AN– No, not at all! Our world is very far away from the world of Hollywood in every sense. I usually make social issue documentaries, but this kind of acknowledgement was very meaningful for our crew as well as for the whole Afghan community.
Q– Whose idea was it to submit the film to the Oscars?
AN– One of our actors. He said: “One day I’m gonna to go to the Oscars. That’s my dream” We were like, wow, that’s really ambitious. And, then we started talking about how amazing it would be to go to the Oscars and take the young actors with us. So Sam and I submitted the paperwork, and we didn’t expect anything to come out of it. When we found out it was very exciting.
We ended up launching this fundraising campaign so that we could raise enough money to bring the boys to the Oscars. Not only did we raise enough, we created an education fund for university for one of them. They made their way from Kabul to the Oscars. It was totally surreal.
AN– We have applied to many festivals, more than we have participated in. It’s a bit scary but that’s just part of the game. It can be disappointing if you don’t get into something. For example, we didn’t get into the Sundance Film Festival but a few days later we found out that we were nominated for the Oscars. You win some, you lose some. The festivals we went to were incredible because people really responded to Buzkashi Boys.
Q– Why have you decided to submit to ÉCU 2013?
AN- We didn’t know so much about ÉCU before, but we checked it out because we found there was so much communication with the festival. Some of the festivals communicate more and some less. ÉCU has been very enthusiastic and tried getting in touch with us. It is always nice if you feel like you have a connection with a festival.
* Buzkashi is a kind of polo played with a headless goat carcass.