Cinema: Mithaq Kazimi

A Talk with Mithaq Kazimi; the producer of 16 Days in Afghanistan

On October 11th, 2009, I searched the word, Afghanistan on the internet. The following titles appeared on Yahoo news.

  1. US weapons failed in 2008 Afghanistan firefight
  2. Key Democrat wants boost in forces in Afghanistan
  3. Partisan divide persists on US troop surge for Afghanistan

What do we really know about Afghanistan, perhaps beyond CNN, Fox news, and its current president, Hamid Karzai? There is a bitter irony about the Western notion of “liberating” Afghanistan from terrorism and religious fanaticism. Got the irony? Let us research the word, Afghan now:

  • Dead Afghan Civilians: The Afghan Islamic Press cited three dead and eight injured in Kandahar.

For those who did not catch the “subtle” irony here, the Afghan nation has been voiceless in the West. While Osama Bin Laden updates the world, every now and then, on what goes on in his mind, while President Hamid Karzai annually travels to New York to address the United Nations “on behalf” of his nation, there is no reflection of the Afghan people on the news.  What are their hopes, fears, and dreams? What is their perception of life, and the West? What is the last book they read? What music do they listen to? What is the most recent film they watched? How could we liberate a nation that has been stripped of their identity and history? How much have they narrated their story? Communism. Talibanism. Western Liberationism. How much have we narrated their story? There is a profound sense of aloofness in the West with respect to the Afghan culture, and mainly due to our apathy and ignorance towards a nation that we have falsely doomed to being the producers of terrorists, suicide bombers, and fanatics. On the other hand, how many Afghan singers, writers, poets, librarians, clergies, and doctors do we know?

16 Days in Afghanistan

Mithaq Kazimi’s 16 Days in Afghanistan, is a film directed by M. Anwar Hajher, who embarks on a journey to discover the daily lives of the Afghan people. The film engages in a dialogue with the people in mosques, libraries, high schools, bazaars, etc. It undertakes a colossal task by gathering the bits and pieces of people’s stories, vulnerabilities, strengths, perceptions, and offers a tangible image of their shared pain and lived lives. Through the most ancient and profound form of human tradition, story-telling, 16 Days in Afghanistan attempts to humanize a nation that has been known for all the wrong reasons. The film is produced by Mithaq Kazimi, an Afghan-American filmmaker living in San Diego. He holds a degree in Film. I sat down with Mr. Kazimi in the light of the release of 16 Days in Afghanistan.

Aria Fani: What is the idea behind the film?

Mithaq Kazimi: Mohammad Hajher, an Afghan-American anthropologist approached me with an idea of going back to his homeland and seeing how it has changed after almost a quarter of a century. I immediately liked the idea and wanted to produce the film. Mr. Hajher came back with almost 30 hours of footage. After seeing the breathtaking footage, I was inclined to edit the film. It took us almost a year to complete a 60-mintue documentary that truly takes the viewer through a journey of Afghanistan.

AF: In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on Afghanistan. Our understanding however, continues to merely rely on the views of the Afghan regime, the American government, and the perspective held by the Western media. In what way, do you think the film does justice to bringing the voices of the people of Afghanistan into the scene?

MK: The film explores the lives of everyday people to get a collective glimpse of their lives – from those on the street selling bread, to doctors, military officers, teachers and to Afghan exchange students in the United States. It portrays how peaceful the people of Afghanistan are and how much they disapprove of war, be it civil or international. Afghans have gone through twenty-five years of bloodshed, so brining peace is something that is always in their mind. The audience is often surprised when watching the film wherein a clergy speaks about his perspective of Islam, and its nothing like what the Western world holds to be true. For example, some elements he values in Islam are historical artifacts and its power to bring the community together.

AF: What are some of the aspects of Afghan society today explored in the film?

MK: It explores the importance of education, status of woman in society, war and peace, religion, history, and family.

AF: As a young filmmaker, you have an impressive filmography. What subjects do your previous films deal with? How was your experience making a film about your homeland?

MK: My previous films are on topics ranging from racism to sexuality to persecution of Baha’is in Iran. In each film, I’ve tried to challenge the status-qou and show people a different perspective of the issue. Film, and media in general, has become a dominating medium for what we perceive to be the truth and in many cases, nothing but the truth–so it is important to use this tool and express our unique views which are rarely covered in our Western media. In 16 Days in Afghanistan we have done just that. We tried to show the world a different image of Afghanistan and a peaceful and hopeful voice of the people, which we hardly hear in the West. Working on a film like this was a blessing and a tool that helped me explore Afghanistan while being miles away from it. In that sense, it was a great experience. It helped me return to the culture and visually rediscover my birthplace and see how Afghans live, what are their struggles, what are their solutions and how do they perceive life after an eventful quarter of a century.

AF: What other projects have you been working on recently?

MK: I just finished a film about the life of Tariq Khamisa and the events that followed his murder. In 1995 he was shot by a 14-year-old while delivering pizzas around North Park. What followed was an unbelievable response by Tariq’s father: he forgave his son’s murderer and together with the grandfather of his son’s murderer started a foundation that stops kids from killing kids.

AF: Mr. Kazimi, there are many young students who want to pursue arts in higher education, but are fearful of finding jobs after graduation. What advice can you give them?

MK: Do it! The society has been and will always be in need of people who can challenge and mirror its image for what it is, and it is only through the arts that this task could be done. Therefore, it becomes very important for those who have the talent and courage to pursue the arts to go forth with full force. Although it is a challenging field, at the end it is highly rewarding and there are many opportunities for success. To be successful in the arts, you cannot look at the same way as you do other fields. You cannot just stick with the school curriculum and hope for the best. Look for alternative opportunities. If there are none, create them!

16 Days in Afghanistan” is in Afghan-Persian (Dari) and Pashtu, with English subtitles. You can purchase the DVD through Amazon and the Website of Mr. Kazimi.

This interview was published in Peyk (# 124).