My Afghanistan - Life in the Forbidden Zone

My Afghanistan - Life in the Forbidden Zone


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Watching My Afghanistan: Life In The Forbidden Zone brought back forceful memories of watching, almost 10 years ago, the depressingly similarly filmed My Country, My Country - Laura Poitras' portrayal of the everyday life of an Iraqi doctor, trying to go about the business of living against the backdrop of the run up to his country's 2005 elections - and, more particularly, Voices Of Iraq, which saw 150 video cameras dished out to the people of Iraq and the resultant footage edited together.

Now, with the International Security Assistance Force still present in Afghanistan, Helmand province still a hotbed of unrest, and the outlying districts of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah virtually unreachable by journalists, Danish/Afghan filmmaker Nagieb Khaja hands out cameras to the civilians who, despite all of this, have to try to conduct their lives there without turning into statistics.

The footage from these 'citizen journalists' is mixed with additional material showing Khaja in Lashkar Gah with his cameraman Henrik Ipsen and local contacts, as he frets about the danger he is putting these people in, particularly the women, who are running a considerable risk by participating. At one point he says one woman will have to stop filming for him, despite the fact he knows she, as a widow with children, is relying on the funding that the camera represents.

The picture of normal people suffering extraordinary conditions that emerges is perhaps unsurprising, which is to take nothing away from those who have put themselves in harm's way to make this film a reality. All the filmmakers spend much of their time under extreme stress. Haji Sahib talks about how his home was comandeered by western troops, who proceeded to destroy his 400-tree orchard, while 19-year-old Shukrullah, who lives near a checkpoint in Saidabad, seems never to be many minutes away from the next bout of gunfire. Even when he is walking with one of his baby siblings, there's a haunted look about him, a stress that, understandably, he just cannot shake. The populace is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea - with no love for either the Taliban, who mine their roads at night, or the Western troops, who a wreaking havocof their own sort.

The films do give you a sense of the landscape and capture moments of insight into the more general way of life for people living in the country. The oppression and repression of women is everywhere - Shukrullah says his older sisters and mother refuse to be filmed but there's also a sense of these women being tied to their homes by tradition that likes to know where they are. One woman captures three little girls playing with a burka. "Take it off," she tells one of them, "you'll have to wear one soon enough." In another moment, 15-year-old Fereshteh is seen chatting to a much younger girl out with her sheep. She asks her if she wouldn't rather be in school. She would, but her dad won't allow it.

These moments of comparative normality are fleeting, however, with the threat of violence a constant companion. The devastation is also encapsulated by Shukrullah visiting what remains of his old school, now just an empty shell that means, if he wants to continue studying, he must make the long and dangerous journey to Lashkar Gah on a regular basis, torn between schoolwork and remaining at home to help protect his family.

Of course, all footage like this is subject to editing and so this remains at least to some extent, Khaja's vision of the material. What is perhaps most worrying is how little people seem to speak about anything beyond the here and now. Although Shukrullah and Fereshteh express job ambitions, elsewhere a sense of the future is curiously absent. This is a portrait of a populace just trying to survive today, with few signs that anything is going to improve much in tomorrow despite the grandstanding of politicians in the West. Films like this are important because they reveal the real faces behind the barrage of news statistics. Faces belonging to people who have as much of a right to live out their lives in peace without fear as we do.

Reviewed on: 19 Mar 2013
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Nagieb Khaja, a Danish journalist of Afghan origin, gives people living in outlying communities in Helmand province mobile phones equipped with cameras and asks them to film their daily lives.

Director: Nagieb Khaja

Year: 2012

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Denmark


Human Rights 2013

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