Philly area filmmaker in running for Oscar with short on Afghan sport

Taking part in the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles will be a native son of the Philadelphia region, nominated for his short film set in Afghanistan. He’ll be accompanied by his two child stars, both native sons of Kabul.

 Sam French grew up in Wayne, Pa., before studying film at the University of Southern California. In 2008, he went to Afghanistan to make documentaries.

“One of the things I saw was misperception of what I see on the news, and what I see every day on the streets,” French said on WHYY’s “Radio Times” program in December. “When you look at the news here, in America, you think the whole country is bullets, bombs and burkas. But I was welcomed with open arms when I got to Kabul.”

French wrote and directed a 30-minute narrative film called “Buzkashi Boys,” a beautiful yet bleak story about a somewhat grotesque national sport, buzkashi, and two boys who dream of rising beyond their impoverished stations in life.

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Buzkashi is a sport similar to polo, but the riders on horseback fight over a flayed carcass of a goat.

“Originally, it was every man for himself. Now, it’s a team sport,” French said. “But it’s a brutal game. Every buzkashi player I’ve ever met has broken every bone in his body.”

The film was made with non-professional actors, with a mostly non-professional crew, and has been shown around the world. One of the goals of the film was to train people in how to make movies. French founded the Afghan Film Project as an attempt to foster an Afghanistan film industry.

“This country is going under a huge change right now,” French said. “I find hope in the young generation — that’s the people we try to foster. They are hungry for change.”

Two of those young people, the stars of the film, will be at the Oscar ceremony this Sunday. French is flying them in from Afghanistan to be part of the glittery Hollywood pageantry.



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