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Canadian director Yosef Baraki recalls his race against time to shoot Mina Walking in Afghanistan as that country’s intensifying war with the Taliban came dangerously near.
“I could hear boom, boom, boom. It was far off, but every second the sound felt nearer and near,” Baraki told The Hollywood Reporter in Berlin about the sound of mortar shells fired by the Taliban as his cameras captured the Canada-Afghanistan co-production’s main character, Mina, an impulsive 12-year-old Afghan street seller played by Farzana Nawabi.
In a country where women cannot travel freely or safely alone, Baraki and his cast and crew often found themselves besieged by local Afghans hurling abuse at 12-year-old Nawabi for acting in Mina Walking, which bowed this week at the Berlinale as part of the Generation sidebar.
“When we were filming in busy streets or markets and people saw me pointing a camera at her [Nawabi], they would yell out insults, they would throw things at her and shout she should be ashamed to play in a film, she should be at home, not on the street talking to boys,” Baraki recalled.
Unlike other movies shot in Afghanistan, like Hell and Back Again and Restrepo, this one had no budget for 24/7 security for the movie set, the Canadian director said. So to avoid drawing attention, Baraki often positioned his camera on a roof top, or from an office window, and used a long lens to capture Nawabi and fellow castmembers in a scene below.
Mina Walking, in an echo of Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel-winning Pakistani teenager campaigning for the rights of girls to an education, portrays a young girl struggling to stay in school while having to sell in the streets to support her drug-addicted father and senile grandfather after her mother is killed by the Taliban.
For Baraki, Mina reflects an entire post-Taliban generation of children in Afghanistan caring for families scarred by decades of war. “We think of this new generation of Afghans having an opportunity that the past never offered them. But I observed on visits to Afghanistan children taking care of parents and grandparents taken out of school and forced to sell in the streets,” he said.
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