AFI Fest: ‘My Afghanistan: Life in the Forbidden Zone’

Cellphones have certainly changed our lives and with photo and video capabilities, they have the potential to change the way be gather news, report events and make movies. In Nagieb Khaja’s documentary, cellphones become a way into the lives of people living in the forbidden zone.

In the forbidden zone, journalists aren’t allowed, but people still live there. So director/writer Khaja brought 30 high-definition cellphone and gave them out to civilians.

Khaja’s father was born in Afghanistan. Khaja grew up in Avedoere, a southwestern suburb of Copenhagen. He notes at the beginning of the documentary that while there are many stories about the war in Afghanistan, they are from the view of the soldiers, mostly American soldiers.

As a journalist, Khaja is right. War is not simply what the conquering army records. Even if you add the accounts of the soldiers who are from the defeated armies, that is still only a partial account of the war experience. The civilians are often not partisans. They aren’t for or against. Some are just trying to survive.

Imagine when your most precious resource is a jeep 20 years old (and we’re not talking about a loving restoration project). The jeep is fade light blue without any shiny patches of paint. It doesn’t have brakes. The man confesses he drives very carefully. The roads which are mostly unpaved, don’t make that easy.

War continues. Life continues. Children play. Kids and adults splash around in water. They laugh.

The adults work. Food is scarce. Young men preen for the camera. And shots are fired. We see people in hiding from both the war and from the strict religious and cultural rules about modesty.

While at first the war seems like a minor inconvenience, Khaja allows us to gradually see death and the maiming of children.  This is a documentary that requires patience. The technique isn’t always the best and what the people say isn’t always interesting or clever. These are, after all, normal people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, living in an area where most people would not want to venture.

At the end, I wanted to know more. I want to be able to see these people in five years, ten years, in a time of peace. I want these people to have more home movies and a better life without war. I hope they survive and then I’d like to know if they think the war was worthwhile.



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