Sunday, April 11, 2004

In this World

Just saw Michael Winterbottom's compelling new movie In this World. In it, two young Afghani men Enayat and Jamal attempt to make it from Peshawar, Pakistan to London, England via a human smuggling operation. It's a rigously realistic portrayal, essentially a fictional documentary, cinema verite shot in digital video. Winterbottom packs a lot in as Enayat and Jamal pass through a dizzying array of cities and cultures on their way towards . . . tragedy. The little help they receive along the way, they receive warily, wisely unsure whether to trust any who offer it.

The films opens with some facts:
  • The United States spent almost 8 billion bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan
  • Many Afghanis moved to Peshawar to avoid the bombing--and, I'm sure, because many were made homeless
  • There are 14 million refugees in the world
  • 1 million of them are in Peshawar
Providing this already stunning movie with even more impact: the character of Jamal is portrayed by a young Afghani named Jamal who really made the journey himself. Winterbottom and his crew took him back to Peshawar where they recreated the story, a story anyway of a similar journey, simply by asking people to relive their experiences.

In this World deserves notice, and Winterbottom deserves, not an Academy award--those come too cheaply--but some sort of humanitarian award for drawing attention to the subject. (It did win the Golden Bear, the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Peace Film Prize at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival.) I wish everyone who arranged and executed the bombing of Afghanistan could see it. We may be able to justify the freeing of the Afghani people from the treacherous Taliban, but can we really justify the lack of attention we're giving the innocents affected by that campaign?

If you've never seen any of Winterbottom's films, I recommend you see, well, all of these as well: Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland, The Claim, and 24 Hour Party People. I've also heard that Jude is excellent--both Jude and The Claim are based on Thomas Hardy novels (Jude, the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge respectively).

Also, for an excellent, yet ultimately sobering movie set in Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban, see Osama, a tragedy which depicts a 12-year-old girl who poses as a boy in order to earn money from her widowed mother and grandmother. I saw both movies within the past week, and together they provide an extraordinary glimpse at the harrowing existence our fellow humans endure in Afghanistan.

Update: The Village Voice has a great article discussing the making of In this World. And this interview in The Guardian which details what seems to have been the ultimate in guerilla film-making.

Want to help? Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (thanks Saheli!) and the International Rescue Committee.

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