By Fatima Husain
Afghanistan is a land bruised with decades of war, yet law and order survives even in the distant of villages through Jirga. Jirga - a tribal council or traditional assembly of leaders (in Afghanistan) that makes decisions by consensus, usually settling disputes according to the teachings of the Pashtuns.
Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour’s drama Jirga narrates the tale of Mike, an Australian soldier who had wrongfully killed an Afghan, before his family, in a remote village in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The demons of the incident haunt him and force his return to the war-torn country, three years later, in order to repent and compensate for the regretful shooting.
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Jirga chronicles Mike’s journey into and through Afghanistan, taking the viewer through otherwise unfamiliar (breathtakingly) scenic landscapes of the country. It is a bumpy road for Mike, as he explores unchartered territory, cross-cultural friendship, adapts to the ways of the people and is even held hostage by militants through his dangerous journey.
Benjamin adapts a simple yet graceful and thought-provoking approach to the account of Mike, who is driven by conscience and provides the viewers insight into the rich and raw culture of Afghan Muslims. Jirga is a powerful attempt at rejecting war and embracing humanity – repent, forgiveness and compassion.
In an exclusive interview with VIBE105 News Desk Coordinator Fatima Husain, Director Benjamin Gilmour provided a detailed account of what went behind the scenes of Jirga.
Benjamin said: “Jirga is about restorative justice. It’s about breaking down barriers between people. It’s an antidote to the hateful rhetoric we’ve been getting from our political establishments… I think people are really ready for a film about reconciliation – how we can wind down these long destructive wars the West has been involved in and get along with our fellow human beings.”
“The trips I made to Afghanistan and my frustration with the way Muslims are depicted in the world – the politics around that, how it has been used by the political establishment to generate hatred and resentment and justify immoral occupations and invasions… Those sorts of things disturbed me all the time… and inspired me to make Jirga.”
Jirga is an attempt to break the stereotypes echoing in the mainstream media for decades. Benjamin said: “… A lot of lies that are told about people along with the fear to be spread results in a lot of ignorance, causes a lot of misinformation and misconception about people of colour or who share a different religious belief or a different way of dressing.”
Benjamin, who is also a writer and medic, has travelled to more than 60 countries, including India, across the Middle East and North Africa for various projects. He believes most people are not out to cause conflict or pain on others.
Jirga was first shot in Pakistan and later concluded in Afghanistan within roughly, 20 days.
For those expecting a fast-paced action film, disappointment awaits. Jirga is instead about tranquility and a sense of self-gratification which takes a while to be achieved in the film.
*Editor’s Note: Jirga as screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18.
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