“View From A Grain of Sand”: A Film Review

by Peter Lehu 
 
Now that the Obama administration has committed our troops and tax dollars to a prolonged war in Afghanistan, people living in the US need to educate themselves on this country's tragic modern history. 

An excellent place to start is filmmaker Meena Nanji's 2006 documentary, View From A Grain of Sand.  This film interweaves a history lesson for those who know little about Afghanistan with the intimate, personal experiences of three Afghani women and their families.  The history, which covers from the 1960's to the near present, does not go into great political detail but highlights the role of the United States as a major reason for Afghanistan's wars starting with its provoking of the Russian invasion in 1979.  The film convincingly shows that the US was responsible for prolonging the Russian-Afghanistan war by funding the Mujahideen rebels.
 
Riveting and often disturbing footage accompanies the history, capturing both the politics and the grim realities of war on the ground.  A major revelation of the film is the reappearance of warlords who terrorized the country in the 1980's in the UN ceremonies inaugurating the post-Taliban government.  The understanding is that even if coalition forces are to defeat the Taliban they will be delivering the country into the hands of serial human rights abusers.  One particularly gripping scene showing women on the streets of Kabul being beaten is taken from footage from cameras hidden underneath the burkas of members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, a grassroots organization opposed to both religious fundamentalism and foreign intervention that is featured heavily in the film.  In other scene a woman is executed in a football arena filled with Afghanis forced to watch by the armed Taliban. 
 
Even more interesting is the film's original material.  Nanji takes viewers into the homes and lives of the featured women, all who live in refugee camps in Pakistan having fled their war-ravaged homeland.  The film lets them narrate their own stories with the help of subtitles.  They smile and laugh even as they sit in homes with no furniture or stand in front of barren landscapes that resemble post-World War Europe. 

 
Cameras follow one woman, Dr. Roeena, to a health clinic and Shapiray, a teacher, into the classroom, both crumbling rooms not meant to last for the decade that refugees have been stranded in the Pakistan desert.  We also hear from the women's family members, all who express a similar sentiment:  they are glad the Taliban is no longer in control but life has hardly improved.  These congenial families, eager to open up their modest homes to a camera crew, demonstrate to a foreign audience that Afghanis do not fit the stereotype of being stern, violent, or religion-crazed.  When Nanji returns to the region in 2005 to see how the women's lives have changed Shapiray's family has returned to their hometown in Afghanistan which is vacant and mostly destroyed.   She follows Wajeeha, a RAWA member, as she returns to Kabul for the first time in 25 years and meets with other members who have remained in the city.  The viewer shares Wajeeha's horror as she witnesses the destruction that has visited the capital.  
 
View From A Grain of Sand is an introduction to Afghanistan's political history but from a personal perspective.  It is an ideal film for introducing Americans to the country's recent history and to the livelihood of Afghanis.  World Can't Wait members who want to stimulate discussion about US policy in Afghanistan and how we as citizens should respond can use this film to great advantage.  
 

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.