With or without the Taliban (but particularly with), the life of the ethnically Asian Hazara people of Northern Afghanistan has been a brutal, grinding struggle.
They were the people just outside the camera frame as the world sat transfixed by the demolition of the "idolatrous" giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. They live in caves, their poverty augmented by episodes of brutality visited upon them by the regime.
Documentarian Phil Grabsky gets points for determination for completing The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan (opening Friday at the Projection Booth on Gerrard), a year-by-year, child-to-man account of the life of a mischievous kid who stuck his grinning face into one such camera shot.
Drawn to Bamiyan by the crime against culture, he was intrigued by the boy and his life, and started filming. Somehow compelled to carry the project on for a decade, Grabsky has created a human picture of that benighted country, and the experience of abject poverty in general.
The first revelation is how Mir came to have a "half-brother" named Khushdel who is at least 20 years older. Seems Mir's dad, a twice-widowed, disabled coalmine worker named Abdul, arranged a "swap" to address their destitution.
He'd traded his daughter to Khushdel for Khushdel's mother (who would give birth to Mir), two marriages which produced a new breadwinner for the family (or would have if there were jobs).
An argumentative bunch, Mir's extended family scrambles to survive -- making food with grass and organ meat discarded by a local butcher.
About the only thing that goes right in the life of Mir is that the Taliban disappears (preoccupied with maintaining a stronghold in the South).
Consequently, the only contact they have with NATO soldiers is when they show up for oddly thought-out humanitarian missions. One day an ocean of latrines appears, but no housing. Weeks later, 100 homes will be built for the hundreds of homeless families. Later, we see them distributing gifts of, um, notepads.
When expected NATO foodstuffs don't arrive, and the family loses out on the house lottery, they head North to the village they'd abandoned as the Taliban were flushed out, and move into their now-bombed-out home, trying their best to fix holes with tape, boxes and packaging.
What's fascinating about the 10-year experience (punctuated with news reports of the deteriorating Afghan situation), is how everyone knows the NATO-provided school could be Mir's ticket out of poverty, but poverty seems to be like gravity. There are no happy endings here.
The stark mountainous beauty that framed the Buddhas remains a terrific backdrop for Grabsky's doc, their sheer crushing mass serving as a metaphor for a life of inevitabilities (like a Third World version of Michael Apted's Seven-Up docs).
It's also interesting to see the Americans fall from saviour status for want of amenities that would have cost a tiny fraction of what it cost to pound the countryside with drones.