Runtime: 90 minutes
Directors: Phil Grabsky, Shoaib Sharifi
by Alexandra Petrache
“My Childhood, My Country – 20 Years in Afghanistan” (2021) was filmed over two decades- we follow Mir Hussein from the age of seven, when he was encountered by Phil Grabsky, a British documentary maker (“I, Caesar: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1997), “In Search of Mozart”(2006)). Fascinated with the camera and with the “foreigner”, Mir becomes a documentary subject himself and we see the boy with a cheeky smile and great ambitions grow up into an adult still with his smile on, now wondering what the future holds.
Mir’s growing up is anchored in key moments of recent Afghanistan history; the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001, speeches of politicians such as Angela Merkel, Tony Blair and various US presidents or suicide bombings. Most recently, we see the start of the US army retreat from Afghanistan.
As the film progresses and Mir grows, we too grow with him and take the journey of discovering parts of a country ravaged by torment; beauty and sadness, desperation, and desolation merge in this 90-minute documentary. The film creates a mix of emotions. On one hand, it is interesting to see the way Mir’s family and other families hope and to learn about Afghani customs and traditions. On the other hand, it is heart-breaking and perhaps angering to learn of the many lives lost in this war, civilians outnumbering US military and allies almost 46:1.
Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi, who co-wrote and directed the documentary, do a brilliant job at building a journey; a story which is first and foremost about humans, about life and joy and unnecessary violence that kills indiscriminately, and which often affects the most unfortunate and the most innocent. Civilians, many children among them, are left displaced, directionless, pushing tenacity to its limits as they try to survive and to access basic human needs.
The documentary shows a country that preserves beauty and majesty even when ravaged by war, and what its people have to go through just to earn their daily bread. A boy tells of his job selling balloons in the city to help his family. Elsewhere, people earn a few dollars for working in precarious conditions in a mine. However, it is sobering to see how much Mir and his family value going to school and becoming literate, and terrible to know that even basic education might not be available to Afghani people. Heart-warming but also heart-wrenching was the fact that Mir is seen smiling in the most unfavourable of the situations. It shows a seed of optimism and hope, and we can only hope, in turn, that that seed and many others will one day have a fertile ground for germination.
Alongside with a journey through a tumultuous and tragic history, we get a lesson of perspective. Mir beautifully puts it, “How long should we keep worrying and crying? We have to be happy whatever happens”.
“My Childhood, My Country – 20 Years in Afghanistan” is a five-star film that we should all be watching and learning from.