American filmmaker Sam French moved to Kabul in 2008 to follow his then-girlfriend to her new job in Afghanistan, working for the British government. What he was surprised to discover in his time there was love for a country far from home and a passion for a new cause.
Oscar-nominated short Buzkashi Boys is French’s first film for the Afghan Film Project, his non-profit organization devoted to telling Afghan stories and creating opportunities for aspiring filmmakers in Afghanistan. Twelve young Afghans worked with Western filmmakers on Buzkashi Boys, about two boys, Rafi, who is torn between staying loyal to his blacksmith father and carving his own path in life, and Ahmad, who dreams of being playing Buzkahi – an Afghan sport much like polo, played not with a ball but with a headless goat carcass.
Buzkashi Boys was shot entirely in Kabul over 16 days in February 2011. Among the stunning locations French used was Darul Aman, a stately palace built in the 1920s but turned to ruins when it was bombed out during the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s. While wandering around Kabul, Rafi and Ahmad climb on the remnants of the palace’s roof, which boasts a striking view of the city.
Finding young Afghans to play Rafi and Ahmad presented a more challenging task than casting in the U.S.
“In Afghanistan, it’s not like you can put an ad in Backstage West and have hundreds of kids show up for auditions,” French said. “We actually went around to a lot of children’s shelters and tried to find kids who could act in the film. And it was really tough cause first of all you have to go in and explain what a film is, and then you have to explain what auditions are.”
Eventually, French found his Rafi on Chicken Street, a famed destination in Kabul for tourists in search of souvenirs. There he met Fawad Mohammadi, a 12-year-old who was selling maps and Dari dictionaries to support his single mother and five brothers. For the role of Ahmad, French cast Jawanmard Paiz, the son of an Afghan filmmaker.
Mohammadi and Paiz – both now 14-years-old – will be at the Academy Awards later this month, thanks to a funds raised via Rally.org to cover travel expenses, with any donations beyond those expenses going toward Mohammadi’s college education. It will be the first time to the U.S. for both of them. For Mohammadi – who wants to one day be an airline pilot – it will be his first time on a plane.
French, who recently transitioned from living in Afghanistan to dividing his time between Kabul and Los Angeles, is currently focused on the Afghan Film Project’s high school training programs, raising funds to make film equipment more available in the country and a film festival he hopes to hold in Kabul later this year.
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