Kartemquin Films to produce “Saving Mes Aynak”

The Life Itself producer has signed on to produce director Brent Huffman's doc (pictured) about the race to save an ancient Buddhist archaeological site in Afghanistan from destruction.
July 2, 2014

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.”

Kartemquin and Huffman have launched an official website for the film and Huffman shot a New York Times op-doc about Mes Aynak in 2013.

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.”

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.