The Boy Mir asks those familiar, uncomfortable questions but offers the timely suggestion that the final answer in Afghanistan lies with the Afghans.
As the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan approaches, there is a growing sense in the West that we no longer know why we are there, what with Bin Laden now sleeping with the fishes and Al Qaeda's increasing irrelevance.
A quick recap. Go back 10 years, to November 2001. The dust from the fallen Twin Towers had barely settled, ominous plumes ever aloft. We were delivering Freedoms to a far-flung corner while simultaneously rescinding our own (Patriot Act, Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001). We were committing ourselves to rebuilding Afghanistan – "We have given commitments. We will honour those commitments," boasted Blair.
It is with these weighty words from Blair that The Boy Mir begins. Yet despite the construction of a few shopping centres and a Coca-Cola plant (the Beverage of Freedom?) in Kabul, what follows is a ninety-minute portrait of what 'counter-insurgency on the cheap' has actually meant for millions in rural Afghanistan.
Director Phil Grabsky's follow-up to The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan covers not one year but 10. It begins in 2002 – shortly after the fall of the Taliban. A naïve, cherub-like eight-year-old Mir is living in a cave ("If you tied a donkey up here, it would run away", says his father) alongside the recently destroyed stone statues. Pointing up at the sky he shouts, "Look at the American planes! I like Americans."
Fast forward seven years. Back in Mir's home village, a two-vehicle military patrol pulls up, distributes some notebooks, and promptly leaves. Smiling (always smiling, despite everything), he says, "I've never seen them here before...they say they are here for our security, but we have not benefited from them."
And so The Boy Mir asks those familiar, uncomfortable questions. Whether allied intervention has made a difference. Whether the battle for hearts and minds is being won. Whether those promises and commitments can be kept.
It also offers an unrivalled Afghan perspective. Restrepo, Armadillo, Our War – all tell the soldiers' story since the war on a politically undefinable non-entity, terror, began. From makeshift-mounted helmet-cams we've seen it all. In all of this, the people of Afghanistan having only walk-on cameos.
Grabsky and co-filmmaker Shoaib Sharifiinsteadoffer Mir's story – indeed that of an entire impoverished Occupation Generation. But more importantly, in filmically shifting the discourse from infantry to inhabitants, they offer the timely suggestion that the final answer in Afghanistan lies with the Afghans.
Won Best Documentary in Santa Barbara.
As enjoyable as 10 years in wartorn Afghanistan can be.
The life of Mir has invariably been spread a little thin over 90 minutes...