Saving Mes Aynak

Less a finished feature than an emergency bulletin, this one-hour documentary surveys the situation on the ground in Mes Aynak, an area southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, that is prized by archaeologists for its buried antiquities and by a Chinese mining company for its rich copper deposits. Unfortunately they can’t share the ancient settlement that’s still yielding discoveries from the Bronze Age, and the government’s deal with the Chinese Metallurgical Group promises to create 7,000 jobs and inject $1.2 billion into the economy (for copper deposits valued at $100 billion). Documentary maker Brent E. Huffman sketches out the various players—not only the Chinese and the local archaeologists battling them, but also the Taliban (whose horrifying demolition of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 lets you know where they’re coming from) and a French archaeological team involved in the stand-off. Huffman doesn’t offer much narrative momentum, or even a conclusion, but given that the situation seems destined to end tragically, that may not be a bad thing. In English and subtitled Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Chinese, and French.