…is probably one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. And it defies all types of film making (in a good way). The subject? The Talibanization of a certain part of Pakistan and the assault on art, entertainment, and humanity. But it’s not quite a documentary. It is a surreal trip through the fiction and the nonfiction of Peshawar, NWFP and FATA. It is fake, it is real, it is unbelievable. Basically, it is Pakistan.
Example: the documentary opens with the siege of the Red Mosque. Documentary film-maker and artist of various sorts George Gittoes is there shooting video with a second cameramen. An attack helicopter circles overhead and shots are heard in the background. Pakistani soldiers sit relaxed and sip tea. George Gittoes moves quickly through the street with his camera. He is then suddenly hit by automatic gunfire and falls to the street, bleeding out.
End of documentary? Not really. He staged that part. He stages a lot throughout the documentary, blending fiction with the even stranger surreal reality of Pakistan. He starts to focus on the movie making scene in Peshawar and finds out that he can make two movies for $7000. So he does. And he caters them to local tastes. One is a comedy that includes two little people portraying Musharraf and Bush. The other is a revenge-romance action movie featuring a Sufi-warrior and himself as the bad guy. He mixes scenes from these movies, including the “making of,” into the documentary.
And the Australian director seems to have very little regard for his personal safety. He goes straight into Taliban controlled territory and interviews a grumpy Mullah commander. He goes to the border to shoot scenes for his action movie, complete with himself playing an over the top snarling evil westerner leading a band of nasty Afghans into Pakistan to do bad things. It is satire to me, but just good entertaining movie fun for the locals.
The Sufi warrior in his action movie is dressed cartoonishly. He just seems ridiculously fake (even more so than the idea of a “Sufi warrior” taking on all the baddies). Where does he get the idea from? From an actual Sufi pir. The man looks to be about 115 years old. And he is a great example of a tolerant and humanistic religious leader. He is, figuratively and literally, a living saint.
The old Sufi with the filmmaker:
In one scene (real) the old Sufi is being driven in a car by his adherents. He looks frail. Very frail. And then the car is attacked by gunfire. An old man preaching love, tolerance and dedication to God: a threat to Islamists. The old man is left confused and shaken. The look on his face should anger you: a victim of the strong and angry preying on the kind and weak.
There are parts of this documentary that are just sheer brilliance, and much unintentional. Gittoes sets up a scene where the actor portraying the warrior visits a shrine in a small village. No filming permits. Just go and do it. As the Sufi warrior enters the village the locals (who have no idea of what is going on) just freak out. They rush up to him to get blessed, a baby is brought out for a blessing, crowds throng around, completely enthralled by the “holy man.” They are ecstatic that he has chosen their mazar in their village. I do wonder what they would think if they ever get the opportunity to see themselves in an action movie an unwitting extras.
The Sufi warrior:
The Taliban would not be happy about enthusiasm for a Sufi pir, even a fake one. And at an earlier part in another shoot some locals are less receptive to a dancing and singing scene being shot in their backyard. Guns are drawn. The film makers hastily retreat.
Gittoes is not exactly an area studies expert. Some of his commentary induced a little eye-rolling. For Pakistan experts, maybe even more. But to his credit he interviews professors from the University of Peshawar. He does so in regards to a number of issues. One is the man-on-man scene he stumbles across. And not just the ubiquitous public displays of male-to-male affection/intimacy. At one point he interviews a male prostitute who does his work in a mobile brothel in Peshawar. A 125cc motorbike pulling a trick around Peshawar until the work is done. And business is good. However, the prostitute tells Gittoes that he likes women and he wants to get married.
And the porn? It’s everywhere. He focuses some attention on one young drama actress who attempts to grab onto him as a sugar daddy. Later she leaves the country for “filming.” She eventually turns up on locals’ mobiles performing oral. It’s sorta-censored, but you get the general idea that she is very good at what she does. So probably not her first time; just her first time being distributed on video. As she is a known actress, she must go into hiding.
Many of the areas Gittoes filmed in eventually fell to the Taliban. He returns the next year and the DVD kiosks selling dramas and “other entertainment” are gone, replaced with jihadi snuff films. Gittoes buys a sampling: screaming men and boys in beards growling indecipherably as they cut off the heads of pathetic looking victims whose arms are bound behind their backs. The movie scene is dead. No drama, no comedy, no song and dance, no porn, no art… just snuff films.
The part of the documentary that I remember best? That would be the scene in a mosque that had just been attacked by a suicide bomber (it may have been Shia, I’m not quite sure). Gittoes and his co-videographer are nearby and arrive on the scene quickly. They enter the mosque and an old man comes up to them, sobbing. He holds up a tray of sweets and says “Welcome.” He then takes them through the mosque and point out the blood on the wall and the little pieces of what used to be a human beings: probably friends, maybe even family. Smoke drifts over all the abandoned shoes.
I wish I could say I had a trailer to show you. There is none at the moment. But I did find some random clips pasted together on youtube. I saw this documentary about a year ago in an earlier form here in Australia. It now has a newer extended name and is hitting the film festival circuit at the moment. Here are the random clips from youtube. Trust me, the documentary is amazing. This does not come close to doing it justice:
If you are in Amsterdam in about 10 days, you are in luck. The European premiere will be at the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival.
You want something more focused on Afghanistan? And perhaps werewolves? Good news! Gittoes says:
We are going to go to Afghanistan in the future to make a werewolf movie. There is going to be a lot of werewolves in Kabul when we get there.