It’s festival week as I write this, specifically; the 14th annual American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF). I’ve been involved with the fest for well over 10 years now (I’ve lost count), and pulling it off each fall is a year round effort. It starts right after the festival ends, typically with a well-earned celebration at a local bar where we review our numbers, pat ourselves on the back, and consider how to make things better next year. (How many people attended? Where did they come from? What did they like or dislike about the festival?) Next, we prepare a budget for the coming year (less fun) and then quickly open up our submission process to begin accepting new films for the following festival. Once the submissions start rolling in, the treadmill of logistics to host a multi-day, multi-venue event speeds up with every passing month. Faced with that challenge, a year doesn’t feel like a very long time.
Yet in the ACFF film Saving Mes Aynak, that’s exactly how long our hero, Afghani archaeologist Qadir Temori, has to excavate a 5,000 year old Buddhist site the size of ancient Pompeii. He and other experts estimate that proper excavation of such an important site should take decades. But the Chinese mining company with rights to the copper buried amidst the ruins has given Temori and his team one year to do a rescue excavation: Namely, remove as much as they can in a year, and document whatever else they have time to uncover with photos and maps before the site is completely bulldozed over.
An impossible task under any circumstances. But Temori’s situation is even more challenging. The site is surrounded by Taliban fighters, who threaten the safety of his workers and the preservation of the artifacts uncovered. International support somehow disappears in the Afghan government before it ever reaches Temori’s team. His workers go months without pay, and even a simple computer is hard to come by.
But according to filmmaker Brent Huffman international pressure has held off the mining project for now. And Huffman’s Kickstarter campaign to fund his film also has provided funds to Temori and his team to help support the excavation. Huffman joined us for ACFF’s October 22 screening of Saving Mes Aynak. We’ll be screening the film again October 29th for those attending the festival. For others, you can read more about this story in my piece for Fluent Magazine and learn what you can do to help here.
Mes Aynak hasn’t been destroyed yet, thanks to global attention and (ironically) the growing security risk posed by the Taliban. Let’s keep the pressure up, and perhaps what feels impossible this year – saving Mes Aynak – will become a reality next year.