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Preserving an Ancient Afghani Religious Site

Medill professor awarded MacArthur grant to document soon-to-be destroyed Mes Aynak

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January 28, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold
Afghan religious site
The subject of Brent Huffman's documentary film is the frantic efforts of archaeologists to save the ancient Buddhist site of Mes Aynak in Afghanistan.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A Northwestern University filmmaker has been awarded $100,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to help him complete a documentary about the frantic efforts of archaeologists to save the ancient Buddhist site of Mes Aynak in Afghanistan from imminent destruction.

“One of the really cool things I’ll be able to do with the MacArthur grant is to fly several legendary musicians from Kabul to the U.S. to record an original film soundtrack written by famed Afghan composer Homayoun Sakhi,” says Brent Huffman, assistant professor at Medill. “It’s kind of like a “Buena Vista Social Club” from Afghanistan.”

Huffman was one of 18 out of nearly 500 filmmakers chosen to receive a MacArthur independent documentary film grant. “I fell in love with Afghanistan when I first went there in 2004,” he says. “Now I feel an obligation to preserve on film, at least, some of this extraordinary 2,000-year-old religious site before its destruction by a Chinese state owned mining company.”

Huffman hopes his film will screen at festivals before the site’s monastery, shrines, life-size Buddha statues and other priceless artifacts are ravaged by mining.

“The international team of archaeologist has been racing against time, but they’re only able to save a small fraction of Mes Aynak’s smaller antiquities,” Huffman says. “Its loss is an international tragedy. Being there is like touching history.”

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