Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
The most appropriate Western comparison would be be polo: both have players riding horseback and attempting to get an object past goal posts. In Polo, that object is a wooden ball; in buzkashi, it's a headless goat carcass, being snatched at and hurdled around by up to 200 players at once. It's a chaotic, muscular game that's captured in all that roughshod glory here in Buzkashi!: the game has its own mafia, its own sponsors (we're talking rich spectators, not Pepsi), and its own safety equipment (occasionally made out of old war gear).
Director Najeeb Mirza manages to give us not only an engrossing sense of the sport itself, but a deeper view of the culture it thrives in: set in Tajikistan (bordering both Afghanistan and China), we see a little-thought-of country caught somewhere between stubbornly guarding its past and opening itself up for transition into the future. There are gorgeous rolling hills that nestle farming cultures, all adeptly captured by Mirza here. Kids also build their own skateboards, and the President addresses students on a tiny television carted outside on the first day of classes. The place seems so devoid of technology, it's startling when a car finally shows up.
As a throughline, Buzkashi! centres itself on a trio of champion players: Azam, a fairly traditionalist shepherd, happy with his two wives and 10 children, who'd rather see his son grow up and take over the raising of his herd than enter the field of medicine (has any Western parent ever had this issue?); the boastful Khurshed, a rich countryman in it for the glory and actively trying to change the game by introducing player alliances to disrupt the normal free-for-all with strategy (much to Azam's chagrin); and Askar, who's trying to simply stay alive after losing a rich sponsor, looking for someone to keep his game (and life) afloat. There are refs, there's cheating and disappointment with bad calls similar to what you'd hear coming home from Rexall on the LRT. Which is to say Buzkhashi! also shows us a certain universality to how people approach the sports they love, even if the cultures couldn't be farther apart. We all hate bad refing and love our hometown heroes.
Mirza (who will be attending Metro Cinema's screenings of his film this weekend) is adept at capturing the visceral elements of the game on film. He sticks his cameras in the centre of the fray, putting fisheye lenses atop horses and riders to give a sense of the power and violence in the sport's scrums. Elsewhere, little flashes of everyday violence emerge—seeing a goat's throat cut onscreen will probably jar a healthy chunk of audience for the few seconds it happens over—but in showing those, the documentary gives a sense of the way of life that the sport emerged from. In that, Buzkashi! is an excellent portrait of a people and a love of a game. What sort of insight into a culture can you glean from its favourite pasttime? Plenty, as it turns out.
Sat, Feb 23 (7 pm);
Sun, Feb 24 & Mon, Feb 25 (9:15 pm)
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Directed by: Najeeb Mirza
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