x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Buzkashi Boys is a debut success for Afghan Film Project

The first project by the Afghan Film Project has been nominated for an Oscar. Buzkashi Boys' producer Ariel Nasr talks about the short drama and the efforts to develop the country's fledgling film industry.

A scene from Buzkashi Boys. The film was shot entirely on location in Kabul and the two lead stars are Afghan. Courtesy Afghan Film Project
A scene from Buzkashi Boys. The film was shot entirely on location in Kabul and the two lead stars are Afghan. Courtesy Afghan Film Project

Renowned American presidents, the hunt for the world's most wanted man, the 3-D adaptation of a best-selling book and an already-celebrated stage musical put to screen. It's fair to say that among the titles vying for glory at the Academy Awards next week, there's not a huge amount of headless goat carcasses in the stories.

But over in the shorts section, things are a little different, as proven by Buzkashi Boys. The 29-minute film's title refers to the game of buzkashi, which might not have yet troubled ESPN's scheduling, but is considered the Afghan national sport. Likened to polo, in that it is played on horseback and involves getting something into a goal, buzkashi's most notable difference is that instead of a ball it uses a headless goat carcass.

Decapitated animals to one side, the main story of the film follows the coming-of-age tale of two young Afghan boys, a street urchin and a blacksmith's son, set against the backdrop of contemporary, war-torn Afghanistan. Having watched a game of buzkashi, one of the two young boys vows to become a professional player himself.

Shot entirely on location in Kabul with local and international filmmakers, Buzkashi Boys was produced by the Afghan-Canadian filmmaker Ariel Nasr, who has been travelling back and forth between the Afghan capital and Montreal for the past three years.

"The film was such a success in terms of the project that we ended up being able to produce," says Nasr. "And the process was beautiful because it was a really international team, where you had very experienced western filmmakers training Afghan filmmakers on the job and making the film together. It was so rewarding."

But it wasn't just behind the camera where there was a local presence. Buzkashi Boys' two lead stars, Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, are both Afghan. While Paiz, the son of a well-known local actor, has appeared in films before, Mohammadi was an amateur picked from the streets of Kabul, where he still sells maps to tourists in between school lessons.

Following a fundraising drive that raised almost US$10,000 (Dh37,000), the two 14-year-olds will be attending the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, the first time Mohammadi will have left his home country.

Nasr made headlines last year with his documentary The Boxing Girls of Kabul. The film, which was screened around the world and won several awards, followed the efforts by a group of courageous Afghan girls to train and compete in a country where women were forbidden from entering sports just a decade earlier.

But despite the film's international success and Nasr's belief that documentaries can help "create a sense of connection between people from very different backgrounds", he's hoping to continue the narrative approach as with Buzkashi Boys.

"I'm really interested in drama projects for Afghanistan and would definitely like to do more dramatic work if possible, but preferably with Afghan directors."

To this end, Nasr, along with several other filmmakers, set up the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit non-governmental organisation that aims to tell the unique stories of Afghanistan while helping develop its fledging film industry. Promisingly enough, Buzkashi Boys - which was directed and co-written by two other members of the Afghan Film Project, Sam French and Martin Roe, respectively - is the organisation's first partnership.

"We're very, very happy with the film," says Nasr, adding that he hopes to film closer to the Middle East soon. "I think it's almost the perfect film for the region and the festival."

To read more about Buzkashi Boys and see the trailer, go to www.buzkashiboys.com

Go to www.thenational.ae/oscars2013 from 8am on Monday for everything Academy Awards. Just as the Oscars get rolling in Hollywood we’ll be posting full coverage of the events, fashion galleries, all the best moments and the big winners. Even earlier than that, Alex Ritman will be live blogging all the proceedings over on Scene&Heard, with Nadia El Dasher marking all the fashion scores and mishaps in real time on All Dressed Up.

aritman@thenational.ae