Chicago-based Kartemquin Films and filmmaker Brent Huffman are making a documentary about the race to save a 2,000-year-old Buddhist archaeological site in Afghanistan which is in danger of being lost to a Chinese copper mine.
Saving Mes Aynak is directed by Huffman and is funded through the MacArthur Foundation. Producers are aiming to finish and premiere the film by the end of the year.
Huffman, who is also a film professor at Northwestern University, has been independently shooting the film at the Mes Aynak site in Afghanistan since 2011 before bringing the project to Kartemquin Films, the company behind The Interrupters, Hoop Dreams and the Roger Ebert doc biopic Life Itself.
The film was among 18 documentaries to receive funding from the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation this year. Other funding came from smaller grants and a Kickstarter campaign.
“Brent has already built a massive online community around Saving Mes Aynak,” said Kartemquin executive director Justine Nagan in a statement. “We aim to help him deliver a film that will galvanize action and bring attention to this unusual problem in war-torn Afghanistan.”
Julia Reichert, Gordon Quinn and Nagan are exec producing.
In 2007, the Afghanistan government granted copper mining rights at Mes Aynak, which is located in the volatile Logar Province, to the China Metallurgical Group Corporation.
The site is home to untapped copper deposits worth more than $100 billion and also houses the remains of an ancient Buddhist city that includes golden Buddhist statues, dozens of stupas and Buddhist manuscripts buried within temples.
Around 90 percent of the site remains underground and unseen but producers say mining is likely to destroy the site when it begins later in the year.
“The international team of archaeologists have been racing against time, but they’re only able to save a small fraction of Mes Aynak’s smaller antiquities,” said Huffman in a statement. “Its loss is an international tragedy. Being there is like touching history.”