Three shorts in this year’s festival were nominated for the 2012 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Though “Curfew” was hailed as champion, the other two films were nothing short of masterpieces. In the theater I overheard one of the festival’s producers state that the 2013 collection of shorts was the best he’d ever seen.
What’s interesting is how similar the two films appear at first glance. “Asad” is a foreign film about a young refugee in Somalia who must choose between the lucrative life of piracy and that of an honest fisherman. “Buzkashi Boys” is also a foreign film, featuring two boys growing up in the slums of Afghanistan, aspiring to someday be celebrated Buzkashi sportsmen. Despite these parallels, the two shorts are actually very different in their tone and impact.
Without giving too much away, “Buzkashi Boys” isn’t exactly a happy film. It portrays imaginative children dreaming to escape their circumstances and do great things. That’s something everybody can connect with. However, there is very little hope of escaping from what holds them back. The Buzkashi Boys do not have the freedom or resources to pursue what they want – nobody in their world does. The film rests on the grim truth that in many nations, the dreams of children inevitably die and are replaced with a cold reality.
“Asad” is very different. I’ve done a fair amount of research on piracy in Somalia, and while it was a large element in the film, I feel that the producers did not portray some essential facts. The film seemed to present the Somali pirates as young men who chose their career path simply because it is more profitable than fishing. What the audience is not made aware of is how industrialized nations have fished and dumped waste in Somali waters for decades, effectively destroying their once thriving fishing industry. In addition to that, many pirates consider themselves the nation’s unofficial “coast guard” to deter further predatory activities.
I believe the filmmakers may have intentionally left those facts out. “Asad” is more of an optimistic, coming-of-age film about honest workers in a dishonest environment. Its message of shining hope even in a dark environment is uplifting. Perhaps that is why it chose to distance itself from the themes of “Buzkashi Boys”. During the credits, some text clarified that “All the actors in this film are Somali refugees. They are a people who have lost their country, but not their hope”. And that is the critical difference between “Asad” and “Buzkashi Boys”.