The crowd-funding platform Kickstarter has become a popular avenue for enterprising individuals to raise money to create everything from funky furniture to indie films. Now, one documentarian is using it to try to save an ancient city in Afghanistan.
Mes Aynak, a 2,600-year-old Buddhist site in Logar province, Afghanistan, is important for two reasons: It's a 100-acre monastery complex filled with Buddhist temples, statues, relics and manuscripts, and it's also home to one of the largest copper deposits in the world.
After discovering the latter trait, in 2007 a Chinese company paid $3.5 billion to lease Mes Aynak for 30 years and plans to extract more than $100 billion worth of copper from the area. It's one of the largest foreign investments in Afghanistan and is part of China's broader plan to exploit Afghanistan's mineral wealth. The Afghan government stands to reap a potential $1.2 billion a year in revenues from the mine.
In 2009, the Chinese company gave archaeologists three years to excavate and move the artifacts before work starts on the copper mine. Ever since, archaeologists have been scrambling to save what they view as a major religious site, lest Mes Aynak's relics meet the same fate as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.
In his Kickstarter profile, Brent Huffman, a documentary filmmaker and professor at Northwestern University, said he visited Mes Aynak in June 2011 "and immediately fell in love with this incredible site. I felt I needed to do everything in my power to save this cultural heritage for future generations of Afghans and for the international community."
Huffman describes being in awe of the "massive walled-in Buddhist city featuring massive temples, monasteries, and thousands of Buddhist statues that managed to survive looters and the Taliban," in a piece for CNN.
If he meets his $30,000 goal, Huffman plans to make a film detailing the imminent destruction of the ancient Buddhist city, arguing that the archaeologists have made little progress on salvaging the remaining artifacts.
The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines known as "stupas," will probably be destroyed once work at the mine begins, Heidi Vogt reported.
"That site is so massive that it's easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology," Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist working in Afghanistan, told the AP.
Huffman's film, "The Buddhas of Mes Aynak," "will follow several main characters to tell this dramatic and multi-layered story," and will include a "well-rounded cast of supporting characters including Buddhist scholars, Afghan politicians and citizens in support of Chinese investments, U.S. military strategists, and Chinese veteran businessmen living and working in Afghanistan."
Huffman writes that he hopes the film will raise awareness to both save Mes Aynak and "prevent similar destruction from happening to other cultural sites in Afghanistan located on or near mineral resources."