Brent E. Huffman - Director of “Saving Mes Aynak” at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Huffman, a veteran writer, filmmaker, and activist, has produced a number of groundbreaking documentaries in conjunction with his production outfit German Camera. Huffman and German Camera’s past credits include The Colony, The Weight of the World, and The Women’s Kingdom, for which Huffman’s wife Xiaoli Zhou received a Student Academy Award silver medal in 200
Saving Mes Aynak was produced by Kartemquin Films, a standout backer of socially conscious documentary films, most prominently including the crossover smash Hoop Dreams in 1994. Kartemquin has also thrown its support behind the highly influential Life Itself and The Interrupters.
Saving Mes Aynak screened to great fanfare at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and Indiezone.tv’s Samantha Collins touched base with Huffman regarding his inspirations for making the film, and what he hoped to accomplish through its creation. With screenings already drawing massive interest throughout the United States, the film is currently seeking independent funding for a wider release via an Indiegogo campaign. Huffman and German Camera have already parlayed Saving Mes Aynak into a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Grant, and the film took home a prize from the 2015 Ahvaz International Science Film Festival in Iran.
Huffman first became aware of Mes Aynak in a 2010 New York Times article, and was immediately inspired to delve further into the issue. “There was this enormous 5,000 square meter ancient city. Five thousand years of history, at least, that was going to have to be completely blown up for them to open the copper mine there,” he said.
Huffman has long had a personal and professional interest in China’s investment strategies toward developing nations, and had already explored Chinese culture, economics, and politics in his earlier work. Having also contributed to films focusing on Afghanistan and its populace, Huffman’s qualifications to tell the story of Temori and Mes Aynak was perhaps without parallel.
“Going through the desert - it was very Indiana Jones - through the desert, through Taliban country, and we got to Mes Aynak. Qadir was actually one of the first people that I met, and before, I’d met people that were like, ‘There’s no story here, no one will ever talk to you, and this is a toxic issue,’ and Qadir was the opposite. He was super excited, super passionate, like, ‘I want to show the incredible things we’re discovering to the world,’ and wanted me to interview him and film this stuff.”
“And his passion was contagious, and I fell in love with this site very quickly, too. Just this enormous, sprawling city.”
Risking his life daily in his quest to excavate Mes Aynak, Huffman said Qadir was driven by a genuine desire to preserve the heritage of his beloved nation. And the risks, Huffman said, were much more than the everyday occupational hazards faced by archaeologists. Qadir was overtly threatened with violence.
“The Taliban actually called his personal cell phone and said, ‘If you show up tomorrow, we’re going to kill you,’ and he has four young children at home,” Huffman said.
“It’s sort of incredible that anyone would still work in a condition like this, but I think Qadir, because he so believes in this, and believes in the heritage and history of his own country, he’s willing to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do - risk your life every day for this cause that’s bigger than you. It’s very inspiring,” he added.
While the geopolitical landscape of Afghanistan has changed in recent years, Huffman noted, the future of Mes Aynak is still uncertain. He hopes his film will serve to galvanize grassroots activism, with an eye toward securing the site’s long-term preservation.
“It’s complicated, for sure. As the US and national communities are pulling out [of Afghanistan], China is really moving in in a big way. China flew over senior members of the Taliban to Beijing to talk to them. All not good signs for this project. And with the US pulling out, there’s an ISIS presence in Afghanistan now,” he said.
“The good news, though, is that the new [Afghan] president is a former anthropologist/economist, and I think my ultimate goal is that Saving Mes Aynak can spread awareness, can rally support. And I think with enough support behind the film, there’s a way to approach the new president, and get him to, if not protect Mes Aynak forever, and make it a cultural heritage site, at the very least delay mining enough so that archaeologists can work for five more years, ten more years, and excavate more of this site.”