Omid, Directed by Jawad Wahabzada
Omid washes cars next to the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father died in the war when Omid was seven. ‘I have been working ever since’, he says. ‘If I didn’t work, my family would go hungry. I didn’t want my mother or sister begging for a piece of bread from others’. Now a teenager, he would be in 11th or 12th grade if it were not for the death of his father, but because he works washing cars to provide for his family he is years behind in school. There are other children like him, their lives altered by the war raging around them. ‘I grew up during the war. I have already seen so much of it. But the hopes and dreams of our people can make this country better’, Omid says over the sound of children playing football in the sand and an American helicopter whirring overhead.
Views of Kabul, of children playing, families walking beside the road, and cars driving through the city centre paint a rare picture of modern Kabul. Even simple views of the city serve as reminders of the rarity of these images for a western audience, and Omid shows an Afghanistan not represented in corporate media outlets that otherwise report on the American war there. Kabul is sandy and chilly, and full of life. The American Embassy sits stoic on a main thoroughfare. ‘In a sense, I grew up next to the embassy’, Omid says. Cars drive by honking their horns. The ones that are covered in dust stop to get washed. (When drivers aren’t interested in having their cars washed, Omid is a good salesman.) But the struggle to support his family continues. ‘I used to make six to eight dollars a day but now even making four dollars is really difficult’, Omid says. ‘Now the embassy guards don’t allow us to wash cars there’. With a chuckle, he adds: ‘The embassy probably thinks we are suicide bombers’.
Omid washes cars next to the embassy, but he also studies English in school, plays football with his friends, and spends time with his family at home. Omid’s voice guides the film, describing his life in Kabul and his views on the war unfolding around him. He tells his own story, uninterrupted by any narrative about the history or politics of the war. He speaks for himself, and in conversations with family and friends, we find empathy and perseverance in the harshest of circumstances.
‘Are you mad at the Americans?’ his mother asks Omid.
‘No, I benefit from them’, he chuckles, ‘I wash their cars and make money’.
‘If they benefit you then Americans are good people’, says his mother. ‘American people have compassion. Their sons are on the front line. Our sons are not on the front line like theirs. When I see them on TV, I start crying. Your brother and sisters ask why I’m crying for them. They have mothers and sisters, too’.
According to Omid, ‘no one knows what will happen in Afghanistan’ when the Americans leave. But while they stay, ‘they shouldn’t be cruel towards Afghans. They shouldn’t raid our homes’. Still, he has hope for his country’s future. ‘I hope that future generations in Afghanistan can live and study in a more secure environment. And live in a peaceful and free country so they can rebuild Afghanistan’.
Kabul tells its own story too, of people going about their daily lives in a place that most people never see, washing cars and sharing conversation in the midst of war. Omid’s true story is the guiding force of this documentary, but it is accompanied constantly by the city moving around him. The cinematography is static but relaxed, and the editing (by Jon Bougher) is professional and clean — the level of quality that one would expect of such a documentary shown on television. Individual shots of the city and of Omid’s life remain still throughout, but together the varied angles and cuts create a dynamic picture of life in Kabul. The film’s presentation has an understated simplicity that allows the documentary’s content to speak for itself. Put together, Omid’s story and the film’s views of Kabul subtly and powerfully communicate the daily reality of people under a foreign occupying force carrying on with their lives. When Omid practices his English in class in front of the other students, he uses the same language spoken by the Americans that have invaded his country to articulate a basic fact that accounts for many of his current challenges: ‘We are from Kabul’, he says.
Omid is a child whose life has been profoundly affected by violent conflict. To provide for his family, he washes cars next to the embassy of the very occupying power that has dramatically altered his life. ‘Every second of our lives here is spent in danger’ in a country ravaged by unending war. Omid tells one boy’s story, but it also tells the larger story of a people living in an unstable country in the shadow of the American military. It is a war documentary without the bloodshed, showing the silent sufferings of people not in combat but affected by violence nonetheless. And they carry on. ■
Runtime: 9 minutes
Genre: Documentary Short
This film is the recipient of the Jury Prize at the 2016 Atlas Awards.
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Omid was shot on location in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is the recipient of the Artistic Vision Award at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the Jury Prize at the Atlas Awards International Film Festival. Jawad Wahabzada is the film’s director. His other films include Be and It Is, a documentary about religion in India, and Children of Kabul, a documentary about child labour in Afghanistan.
Omid can be viewed in its entirety below:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: Omid in ‘Omid’, directed by Jawad Wahabzada.