wicklow films
Film reviews and endorsements for Afghan Stories:


The Hollywood Reporter
Joe Mader
October 16, 2002


The bottom line: This small compassionate film reveals the individual stories behind the tumult of recent Afghani history.

Documentarian Taran Davies' response to Sept. 11th was to go to Afghanistan. The result is a 59-minute film that is surprisingly gentle and empathetic in its portrait of Afghani expatriates and residents, all of whom have dealt with the tumult and chaos of the past 24 years of Afghani history.

Afghan Stories will have a limited art house release in major cities via 7th Art, followed by appearances on cable or PBS, and it should be well-received.

Davies - American-born, British-raised and living in New York - shot the project on video, which allowed him greater freedom of movement and portability. The film opens with familiar footage of the Sept. 11 attacks and Davies' voice over narration explaining his decision to go to Afghanistan. He enlists the help of his friend Walied Osman, an Afghan American who serves as co-producer.

Osman and Davies first go to Queens to speak to a member of the Afghan royal family jailed and tortured by the Taliban. His response to the war against the Taliban is pure contempt for his native land: He advocates throwing "an atomic bomb over it." He reminisces about the Afghanistan of the 1950's and '60s, expressing his love and regret over its destruction.

Three weeks into the American bombing, the two filmmakers travel to Tajikistan to await permission to enter a portion of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They stay with a refugee Afghani family - ex-journalist Ali, his doctor wife and their children - who are trying to get permission to join Ali's mother in Canada. Davies tapes a video of Ali's family and promises to deliver it to the mother in Canada.

Once in Afghanistan, in the town of Faizabad, Davies and Osman meet the area manager of the UN's World Food Program and accompany him to a warlord-controlled town where a new road is being built. Davies approaches all the people he meets with a respect and openness that encourages them to talk freely on camera. He possesses a wry but kindly sense of humor and shows some of the absurdities of the ruined country, such as a half hour negotiation between the UN official and the warlord when the former wants to leave the latter's village. (The warlord wants the party to stay for tea).

Davies' film was made at such a specific and tumultuous time that it's somewhat limited in perspective. Afghan Stories is free of cant and political agenda. What we get instead are individualized portraits of a ravaged people - a real achievement for this modest film.


Wicklow Films, New York