What do you think of when you think of Afghanistan? From the coverage in mainstream American media, one may be under the impression that it’s a lawless country breeding Taliban fundamentalists. Our media is understandably interested in the fact that nearly seven thousand US service members have been killed in Afghanistan and the war has left thousands more wounded, maimed, and traumatized—but while our media prioritizes these stories, the stories of the average Afghan get sidelined, perpetuating our xenophobic attitude towards the war-torn country.
In 2008, a young American filmmaker named Sam French disregarded all of the American media coverage of Afghanistan and followed a woman across the world to Kabul. Almost immediately, he discovered that the land was full of incredibly unique and diverse stories just waiting to be told. More than that, he realized that the Afghans have the same dreams as him—dreams of freedom, better lives, and an education.
Two years later, French and his friends formed the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit foundation formed to tell Afghan stories while simultaneously training Afghanis in the art of filmmaking. The project's first film, completed in late 2011, was titled Buzkashi Boys.
Now, as an American, I knew nothing about buzkashi, the celebrated sport from the Middle East. Now that I do, I wish there was less of an embargo on the everyday happenings in Afghanistan—this sport is the shit. It’s basically a violent, free-roaming game of horse polo played with a dead goat instead of a ball. The riders are all hailed as celebrity figures for dragging and tossing that huge, limp goat by its leg around a dirt arena. If you think football is brutal, you’ve got no fucking clue.
The story of Buzkashi Boys centers on two best friends—a street brat and a blacksmith’s son—who struggle to reconcile their dreams of playing buzkashi within their predefined societal roles. The film offers a unique glimpse into Afghanistan by way of their friendship, despite the pressures coming from both society and their own impending manhood.
The film is quite a feat, beyond the fact that it's one of the first international productions filmed entirely in Afghanistan, or that nearby rocket attacks almost claimed everyone's lives on set, or that the country is run by probably the most corrupt government in the world. What French and his team crafted is a beautiful, timeless, coming-of-age story that happens to revolve around a bloody and brutal goat-murdering sport.
Sam French graduated USC film school, where he directed the film Over the Line, which won multiple awards, including Best Director and Best Actor at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. He directed a bunch of commercials and music videos before he chased down a beautiful woman in Afghanistan and, shortly after, developed The Afghan Film Project. In 2011, he directed Buzkashi Boys, which went on to win multiple awards and finally get nominated for Best Live-Action Short Film at the 2013 Academy Awards. VICE is proud to present the online world premiere of Buzkashi Boys.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.