Saving Mes Aynak is a visually stunning portrayal of Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori’s fight to protect Mes Aynak, the site of a uniquely preserved and historically unprecedented ancient Buddhist city that housed both a monastery and a copper mine. Giant Buddha statues, stupas, ornate murals with the paint still on, manuscripts, wooden Buddhas and other treasures are offering scholars new information and understanding of Buddhist culture in Afghanistan and of the other ancient travellers along the Silk Roads, more than 1000 years ago.
The site is likely to be destroyed because the Afghan government leased rights to the estimated $100 billion USD in copper still at Mes Aynak to a Chinese-owned mining interest, who may begin environmentally destructive open-pit mining at any time.
On the surface, the conflict represented in Saving Mes Aynak seems to be measuring Afghanistan’s need for economic development against the value of an ancient cultural heritage site. That conflict raises rich questions like, what is the value of art and history to society? Who owns culture and history? And, who gets to decide?
But scratch just a bit deeper, and those sticky questions fade against a backdrop of rampant corruption and post-conflict profiteering. It is clear that the sale of Mes Aynak will not benefit the people of Afghanistan, and will utterly destroy a piece of their cultural heritage and permanently poison large swaths of land and water.
In our current muddy political climate, rife with “fake news” and “alternative facts,” this kind of in-depth documentary work has never been more important. Tools like this provide a lens to understand events happening around the world. Through the eyes of Temori and his team, we can appreciate the courage and patriotism it takes for individuals to struggle against a government not always aligned with its people’s interests and against questionable corporate practices operating without public oversight or accountability.
These themes echo strongly here in the U.S. in our newly energized environment of activism and civic participation. And the film itself is a demonstration of the inherent value of thinking beyond the headlines on our newsfeeds and the 140 character quips that can’t possibly tell the whole story. Critical thinking, media fluency, in-depth thought and research need to become staples of the way we consume information. We thank the film team for giving us the opportunity to dive into these issues and we send our gratitude and best wishes to Qadir Temori and his team for their courage, commitment and tremendous work to save Mes Aynak.
You can watch Saving Mes Aynak on Netflix, check out the Impact Report to see the ways the film is garnering international support for Mes Aynak, and use the Discussion Guide to get more background information, and ideas for how to use the film in a class or community group.