Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
Shot on 16mm film on numerous visits over seven years, debut filmmaker Pieter-Jan De Pue’s account of bands of armed children roving war-torn Afghanistan is as amazing for where it goes as it is for being so impeccably well crafted. It was the hands-down winner of this year’s Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography, but that accolade cannot prepare you for just how breathtaking it looks, let alone how unlike any other documentary filmed in a war zone.
De Pue enlisted his young subjects to re-enact their exploits for his camera. They roam the valleys searching for undetonated explosives to sell or trade amongst other gangs. Some mine lapis lazuli by hand, others steal opium from passing caravans. Their informal mercenary system interacts with fractious, understandably wary US troops. Cheering the news of imminent US withdrawal, they dream of lording it over their battered country. Flights of invented mythology and intense visual lyricism ascribe freedom and resilience to these wild, motherless boys, and do so with unabashed romanticism. But the reality of their hardscrabble existences is clear to see.