Lack of peace in ‘God's garden’ captured in The Land of the Enlightened

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Thursday 10 Nov 2016

The war-tormented Afghanistan and a gang of kids is presented in the documentary drama being screened during the ongoing Panorama of the European Film between 2-13 November

The Land of the Enlightened
(Photo: still from The Land of the Enlightened)

When god first divided the lands of earth, he forgot to give a part to the Afghani king Nasrullah, and as compensation he gave him his own garden as the land of Afghanistan. And because it was a beautiful land, all kings wanted to invade it, so the king made a bet upon a fight between two cats, but he lost to leave the land to Genghis Khan, he withdrew, and Afghanistan was deserted and has been living in war since.

This legendary ancient story is reflected in a time lapsed docu-fiction film happening in the harshest parts of the war-torn Afghanistan that is still occupied by American troops chasing Taliban members hiding in mountains.

The film goes through a few gangs of kids surviving the tough nature and the endless ongoing war in their own way, along with the American troops, mine workers, and some Afghani families whose children work in opium fields.

The main gang living in the Pamir mountains is under the leadership of Gholam Nasir, a dreamer kid who wishes the Americans to leave, and along with his gang of kids, Nasir sells bullets and pieces of a former soviet base where they live, and robs opium and valuable things from those who pass by.

Nasir collects opium to give it to the father of the young girl he loves, to approve their marriage. As the American troops have decided to end the occupation, Nasir plans to take over Afghanistan on a bet over a cat fight just like his ancestors.

The Land of the Enlightened
(Photo: still from The Land of the Enlightened)

The 2016 joint production is directed by the Belgian photographer, cinematographer, and filmmaker Pieter-Jan De Pue, and is shot with a 16 mm camera showing intimacy with the place.

De Pue, who was working as a photographer for several NGOs in Afghanistan, discovered the story of the children gangs, and decided to make a film, which took him seven years of research, and filming, financing complications and real threats.

Those difficulties are filmed in "The last Omelette" which is the making of the "Land of the Enlightened" by Gregoire Verbeke who is also the assistant director of the original film.

The winning film of the Sundance Festival has faced multiple difficulties, ranging from dealing with a different country and a different culture, living in a war, having blocked roads between provinces, and territories controlled by the Taliban.

It was also difficult shooting in rough landscapes, shooting among mines and explosives, and making rehearsals with non-actors to create the fictional part, which all affected the sources of finance. Some of the crew even disbelieved that the film could ever happen.

While facing the many threats by the Americans who felt the crew of the film went too far, the Mullah of the country called for jihad against the crew -- considering them Kafirs (infidels) -- their equipment was destroyed a few times, and they were also jailed multiple times. But the biggest threat was when the director was attacked by the Taliban.

The Land of the Enlightened
(Photo: still from The Land of the Enlightened)

In a talk with Gregoire Verbeke following the screening of both the film and the making in cinema Karim on Wednesday, he spoke about how for seven years of struggling -- through the changing reality of the country -- the director was looking for the best way to make a film in Afghanistan, showing the poetic and cultural side of the country.

According to Verbeke, they only filmed 28 hours of material because of the difficulty of filming for technical and security reasons in such a harsh war zone. Some of the footage was taken in 2008, and the rest during 2013.

Although fiction mixes with documentary in the film, all stories, according to Verbeke, are true, and have been collected from all over the country through the first years, and in that regard fiction was important to show the dreams and the imagination of the kids, which is difficult to express through a documentary alone.

The use of the 16 mm camera was explained by Verbeke as being easier to carry, harder to brake in a tough areas, can be taken to remote areas, and it shows the real nature, as well as giving a better artistic and cinematographic picture -- which indeed was remarkable in the film.

A photo book of the seven year journey is expected to be published soon.

The next screening of the film will be on November 12 in cinema Zawya, 10.30 am.

Check here the complete programme of Panorama for Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Port Said

Ahram Online is the media sponsor of the Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya

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