By Ray Pride




JUNE 23 2015 (Chicago) — Acclaimed Chicago not-for-profit documentary collective Kartemquin Films announced today that they will make director Brent E. Huffman’s film Saving Mes Aynak available for free to the people of Afghanistan.


The filmmakers are offering the free stream, hosted by the digital platform VHX, to anyone within Afghanistan who registers at before midnight on July 1, which they have declared Global #SaveMesAynak Day.


For the rest of the world, Kartemquin (the makers of last year’s Roger Ebert film Life Itself and the classic Hoop Dreams) are currently offering streams, downloads, DVD/Blu-Rays, and public screenings of Saving Mes Aynak through their campaign on Indiegogo, the world’s largest crowdfunding platform. An initial 10% of the campaign goal of $50,000 of raised funds will also go directly to funding archeologists preserving the site. Should the filmmakers exceed their goal before midnight PDT on June 26, they will double that direct donation to 20%.


Saving Mes Aynak, which world premiered at IDFA 2014, follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the Mes Aynak site from imminent demolition by China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned mining company ready to harvest an estimated $100 billion dollars worth of copper. Located within Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Logar Province, Mes Aynak is a 5,000 year-old Bronze age site and 2,000 year-old Buddhist Silk Road city of historical and cultural importance archeologists have stated could potentially be comparable to Machu Picchu or Pompeii. Only 10% of the site has so far been excavated, but corruption is rampant, and the site could be destroyed at any time.



Director Brent E. Huffman has been unable to return to Afghanistan since he finished production. Filming solo at the Mes Aynak site, he received kidnapping and death threats from the Taliban, who control the area. The film shows that several archeologists have also faced violence and even been killed while working at the site. Extensive looting of priceless Buddhist relics is regularly taking place and corruption is rampant.

“I want to go back and present the film personally in Afghanistan, but even if that is not possible we want the film to be seen there above all else. This is our gift to the people of Afghanistan, but also a challenge to those with the power to reverse this decision and save Mes Aynak,” said director Brent Huffman. “My film shows that while the Taliban, the Chinese company, and the Afghan government are all trying to secure access to this huge amount of money, Afghan archaeologists were the only ones trying to do something selfless and save this enormous archaeological site, and really do something for their own country. Afghanistan is not a rich country and they are under immense pressure to develop their mineral resources. But it will be very hard for anyone who sees the beauty of Mes Aynak, and the corruption going on, to still think mining this site will be beneficial for the country.”


Huffman first visited Mes Aynak in 2011 after reading about it in the New York Times. His initial blogs, photos, and videos from the site helped spark worldwide protests that may have directly led to the Chinese company delaying mining. The new Indiegogo campaign may also have contributed to a stunning recent declaration by Afghan Minister of Mines and Petroleum Dawood Shah Saba that the current mining contract is “not in the interest of the country.” But with the threat of destruction still imminent, the filmmaker will not rest until the site is permanently safe from harm.


Said Huffman: “It is my hope that #SaveMesAynak Day will spark worldwide protest, conversation, and action. It will be the launch of a long-term educational campaign to reach as many people as we can with the message that humans need to protect their cultural heritage. After the world watches the film together on July 1, I hope to travel to Kabul and present both the film and petition asking Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, his government, and to the people of Afghanistan. We plan to show the film to UNESCO officials, and the international community of those with the power to ensure this magnificent Buddhist archeological site is preserved. But we need support in doing this, and with translation services.”


Link to #SaveMesAynak July 1 campaign:


Saving Mes Aynak world premiered in November 2014 at IDFA, the world’s largest documentary festival, and debuted in the US in 2015 at American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs and at Full Frame Documentary Festival. It has won festivals wards in the US and in Iran, and was praised as “Advocacy filmmaking at its best… unique and immediate,” by Indiewire. Following #SaveMesAynak Day, the film will be broadcast in a number of countries around the world, including on Al Jazeera America and Al Jazeera English, and will be available to screen to a combination of educational institutions and community venues.


Film Synopsis

Saving Mes Aynak follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save a 5,000-year-old archaeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition. A Chinese state-owned mining company is closing in on the ancient site, eager to harvest $100 billion dollars worth of copper buried directly beneath the archaeological ruins. Only 10% of Mes Aynak has been excavated, though, and some believe future discoveries at the site have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself. Qadir Temori and his fellow Afghan archaeologists face what seems an impossible battle against the Chinese, the Taliban and local politics to save their cultural heritage from likely erasure.


ABOUT Kartemquin Films

A collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society, in 2016 Kartemquin will celebrate 50 years of sparking democracy through documentary. Their films, such as The Interrupters, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, and The New Americans have won numerous awards while leaving a lasting impact on millions of viewers. A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by audience and community engagement strategies, and for its innovative media arts community programs.


Their recent films include Steve James’ Life Itself; Usama Alshaibi’s American Arab; Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare’s The Homestretch; Joanna Rudnick’s On Beauty; Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden’s Almost There; Brent Huffman’s Saving Mes Aynak; and Hard Earned, a six-hour series for Al Jazeera America.


Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in Chicago.


ABOUT Indiegogo

Indiegogo empowers people around the world to fund what matters to them. As the largest global crowdfunding platform, campaigns have launched from almost every country around the world with millions of dollars being distributed every week due to contributions made by the Indiegogo community. Indiegogo is an open platform dedicated to democratizing the way people raise funds for any project – creative, entrepreneurial or cause-related. The company was launched in 2008 and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles and New York.

For more information, visit and follow us at and





Mes Aynak (meaning “little copper well” in Pashto) is a barren, mountainous site in Logar Province, Afghanistan, 25 miles southeast of Kabul near the Pakistan border. At the heart of the Silk Road, the site contains Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit as well as remains of two large ancient settlements: a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city of 500,000 sq. meters on top of a 5,000-year-old Bronze age site. The Buddhist site contains dozens of temples, thousands of artifacts, and around 600 large Buddha statues – similar to those destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 at Bamiyan.



In 2007, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned enterprise, struck a deal with the Afghanistan government for the mining rights at Mes Aynak. Using a contract written with little oversight and no environmental protection, the Chinese government plans to use open-pit mining – the cheapest yet most environmentally destructive mining approach. If pursued, open-pit mining would destroy the entire site as well as six surrounding villages, leaving behind nothing but massive toxic craters. No one would be able to live in the area ever again, and the remaining artifacts and information of the ancient sites would be lost forever.



Brent E. Huffman, director of Saving Mes Aynak, began researching and filming at Mes Aynak in 2011. Small-scale excavations by local Afghan archaeologists, including Qadir Temori, had just begun. Brent, working alone with only the assistance of a local translator, filmed 250 hours of footage throughout 18 months.



Archaeologists estimate full excavation of Mes Aynak to take 30-40 years, yet were given three sporadic years by the Chinese mining company. This has caused them to perform rescue archaeology, a form of excavation meant to salvage much in little time, but can be just as destructive as looting. The World Bank claims Mes Aynak to be the most expensive dig in the world ($10-30 million dollars), yet little money has been given to workers leaving them without necessary equipment like computers, cameras, and chemicals, as well as months without pay. Additionally, the archaeologists risk their lives by having to avoid hidden landmines and constant death threats from the Taliban.



While excavating ballooned during filming, it has recently diminished as the threat of violence from the Taliban worsened. MCC’s copper mining could begin whenever they are ready to start. Afghanistan has been going through recent positive change, including its new President Ashraf Ghani. A former anthropologist and economist, Ghani shows potential of supporting a newly resubmitted petition to save Mes Aynak.  However, President Ghani recently visited Beijing to meet with the President of China about prioritizing mining projects in Afghanistan including Mes Aynak.



1) Put pressure on the Afghan government to preserve the Mes Aynak historic site for future generations, and to make this possible, request the Afghan Government to call on Afghan archaeologists, and International experts on Afghanistan to participate in continuing or new excavation and restoration missions.


2) That copper extraction, as recommend by experts, be done through the use of alternative and tested methods of mining and implemented as such, so that the historic site is not destroyed as a result of indiscriminate mining


3)  That any funds collected in support of the working members of the Archaeology Dept., and transferred for that purpose through the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan, be earmarked by said Ministry for Mes Aynak archaeological missions only.



This official #SaveMesAynak Petition will be presented to the new Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, asking him to preserve the site from destruction by requesting it be desginated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Afghans Matin Wasei; Ofran Badakhshani and Faramarz Ahmadi were the creators of this in 2012, raising over 70,000 signatures. Due to this international support, enough pressure was put on the Afghan government to temporarily delay mining for one year – a huge victory for this campaign. But not the final victory we hope to achieve in 2015 with the #SaveMesAynak campaign.

“A doc of crucial immediacy, a plea for all humanity… Advocacy filmmaking at its best and most chilling… both fascinating and terrifying… Brent E. Huffman’s gift as a cinematographer provides haunting, lyrical images and as a director he wisely balances the passion of Temori with the eternal loss of something worth saving. Saving Mes Aynak is simply required viewing for those whose soul will compel them to act. Unique and immediate. That rare doc that NEEDS to be seen.” — Jake Jacobson, IndieWIRE

“The most important documentary showing at Full Frame this year.” — Joe Corey, Inside Pulse

“I couldn’t help thinking of Indiana Jones as the film depicts archaeologists scraping away in the dust and sand… Well paced, and the images are gripping… What’s it going to take for people to care about Mes Aynak? The actual visual of it being obliterated?” — Tom Roston,

Select festivals: IDFA 2014 (World premiere, The Netherlands), FIPA 2015 (France), 2015 Millennium Festival (Belgium), 2015 American Documentary Film Festival (US premiere), 2015 Full Frame Documentary Festival (USA).

Awards: 2015 Abu Rayhan Biruni Award, Ahvaz International Science Film Festival (Iran); 2015 Jury Prize for Best Film, and Jury Prize for Best Public Education Value, The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival (USA).

Upcoming TV Broadcasts: 
Al Jazeera English (July 1 2015), Al Jazeera America (July 12 2015).
Interviews with the director:


Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon