Funded! This project was successfully funded on December 15, 2012.

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Archaeologists from around the world fight to save a 2,600-year-old Buddhist city from imminent destruction by a Chinese copper mine.

Thank you for visiting “The Buddhas of Mes Aynak” Kickstarter page!  We have successfully met our initial $30,000 goal.  Thank you!

UPDATE: We are now aiming for a STRETCH GOAL of $40,000 to hire a composer, sound mixer and additional editors.  We also want to use the additional funds to create a Thai section of the film to interview people in Thailand who have been fighting to protect Mes Aynak.

The goal of this Kickstarter campaign is to fund the production of a documentary film (segments have already been featured on CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, PRI, BBC, etc.) about the imminent destruction of the ancient Buddhist city at Mes Aynak, Afghanistan by a Chinese copper mine in December 2012. This film will also document the work of international archaeologists and all of their findings at Mes Aynak. 

I am a documentary filmmaker and professor at Northwestern University, working since 2011 on a story about this ancient Buddhist city. I felt deeply connected with Afghanistan and the Afghan people while covering the first democratic presidential elections in 2004.  

I first visited Mes Aynak in June of 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.  In addition to destroying one of Afghanistan’s most important archaeological findings, the copper mine would also devastate the environment by polluting the land and water supply in Logar province and killing all life in the area.

The money raised in this campaign will go towards a documentary film that will help create international awareness to both save Mes Aynak and prevent similar destruction from happening to other cultural sites in Afghanistan located on or near mineral resources.  

The Film - The Buddhas of Mes Aynak

A documentary by Brent E. Huffman

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak is the story of a race against time.  This documentary follows an international team of archaeologists as they fight to save a 2,600-year-old Buddhist city in volatile Logar province, Afghanistan. Led by Philippe Marquis of DAFA, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, the specialists attempt to document the ancient Buddhist city of Mes Aynak before its imminent destruction in December 2012. The location, called one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Asia, will be demolished by a Chinese government-owned mining company (MCC).   MCC will exploit the location for over 100 billion dollars worth of copper located directly beneath the Buddhist temples.

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak will also examine the cultural and historical significance of the Mes Aynak Buddhist complex and show in vivid detail what life was like for the Buddhist monks and nuns who lived, worked and worshipped there.

Background:

Mes Aynak (meaning “little copper well”), a desert region 25 kilometers southeast of Kabul, is an enormous archaeological treasure trove 400,000 square feet in size. An ancient Buddhist monastery complex, extensive wall frescos, massive devotional temples, and more than 200 life-sized Buddha statues comprise a discovery of immense global importance. At the same time, Mes Aynak is home to the largest undeveloped copper reserve in the world.  Directly beneath the Buddhist site lie mineral deposits worth an estimated $100 billion. The fate of the ancient Buddhist artifacts hangs in the balance as the Chinese begin planning their destructive open-pit style copper mine.

Under immense international pressure, in early 2009 the Chinese company gave archaeologists three years to excavate and move the artifacts before the copper mine gets underway. But with extremely limited resources, the dedicated archaeologists have made little progress. “We have only discovered the tip of the iceberg, a mere 10% of the site,” says French specialist Philippe Marquis, who believes this could easily be a thirty-year excavation project.

Story Summary:

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak will be a feature-length documentary examining the volatile debate between cultural preservation and economic opportunity from all sides. This documentary will rely on the personal narratives of a diverse array of constituents in order to tell a multifaceted narrative. 

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak will follow several main characters to tell this dramatic and multi-layered story.  Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist, is leading the effort to document and preserve the Buddhist statues. Dr. J. Mark Kenoyer, an American archaeologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is trying to raise international awareness about the site. Abdul Qadeer Temore, a leading Afghan archaeologist trained in France, is working to protect his cultural heritage. And finally Zhenguo Liu, a Chinese manager working for China Metallurgical Group Corporation in the compound at Mes Aynak is frustrated with the discovery of the archaeology site. The film will also have 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.

Cultural Significance:

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak will in particular examine the cultural and historical significance of the Mes Aynak Buddhist site.  Archaeologists believe that Mes Aynak flourished for centuries as a cultural crossroads of trade and Buddhism along the Silk Road. Developed around the first century AD, the site is a trove of Buddhist monastic ruins, statues, and stupas attesting to the seminal role that Afghanistan played in the proliferation of Buddhism in Central and East Asia. Buddhists, who began settling the area almost two millennia ago, were drawn by the availability of copper at the site.  Monks, who lived and worshipped there, once exploited the lucrative copper deposits to make relics, statues and coins for trade. Historians are particularly excited by the prospect of learning more about the early science of metallurgy and mining done at Mes Aynak. The site is known to contain coins, glass and tools for making these, going back thousands of years. Archaeologists have also unearthed manuscripts in scroll form that may provide evidence of the presence of Alexander the Great´s troops.

For more information about Mes Aynak, please read my CNN Opinion story here:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/22/opinion/afghanistan-buddha-site-mine/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

More international press for "The Buddhas of Mes Aynak":

Official Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/buddhasofaynak 

CNN Business blog post: 

http://business.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/05/race-against-time-to-save-ancient-afghan-site/

Behind-the-scenes article from the UK-based The Film Review:

http://thefilmreview.com/film-news/documenting-the-buddhas-of-aynak.html 

An interview with Professor Brent Huffman on Chicago NPR (WBEZ Worldview):

http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-06/digging-copper-finding-buddhist-treasures-100415 

Foreign Policy slideshow:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/21/afghanistans_vanishing_buddhas

ABC Australia Radio interview:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-05/interview-brent-huffman/4298578

United Press International:

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/06/15/Filmmaker-helps-in-effort-to-save-history/UPI-32841339797721/

The Asia Society:

http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/are-chinese-miners-destroying-2000-year-old-buddhist-site-afghanistan-images#9

Tricycle Magazine:

http://www.tricycle.com/blog/chinese-mining-company-might-destroy-ancient-buddhist-ruins-mes-aynak

NPR:

http://www.npr.org/2012/09/24/161677990/foreign-policy-golden-buddha-hidden-copper 

Northwestern University:

http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2012/06/huffman-afghanistan.html

Asian Correspondent:

http://asiancorrespondent.com/62197/assistant-professor-showcases-afghanistans-cultural-treasures/

Evanston NOW:

http://evanstonnow.com/story/education/northwestern-news/2012-06-06/50103/nu-prof-films-efforts-to-preserve-afghan-heritage

China Digital Times:

http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2012/05/resources-imperiled-buddhas-and-sino-afghan-relations/

ARCH International:

http://archinternational.org/mes_aynak.html

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

“The Buddhas of Mes Aynak” has been a difficult project to make due to funding and danger at the Mes Aynak site, located in the heart of Taliban country in Afghanistan.

But because of my passion for the site and Afghanistan, I have put my own money and limited funding from Northwestern University, the Global Heritage Fund, the Evanston Community Foundation, Bob Compton and the Asia Society into production of this documentary film. This work-in-progress is currently 60% complete.

I will use the money from this Kickstarter campaign to pay for a final production trip in December 2012 and for post-production of the film. Funds will be used on plane tickets, guest house costs, fixer fees, translation, and post production costs such as color correction, sound mixing, subtitling, etc..

FAQ

  • The documentary film will raise international awareness in news reports like the ones I have already done for CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, ABC Australia, The Film Review, The Asia Society, Tricycle Magazine, PRI, PBS Newshour, BBC, China Digital Times, etc., about the proposed destruction of this ancient city.

    In addition, I am currently showing rough cuts of the film at conferences and film festivals.

    The footage is also currently being used by the Smithsonian in the USA in high level meetings with government officials to raise awareness in the hopes of saving Mes Aynak.

    The film represents the only visual documentation of the statues, artifacts and structures discovered at Mes Aynak. The documentary also captures all the work of the archaeologists who risk there lives daily trying to save this site.

    Finally, 10% of the funds raised will go to Afghan archaeologists to buy cameras and computers to better do their rescue archaeology at Mes Aynak.

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