How an award-winning documentary about a boy in an Afghan mountain village wound up with a screening date in a Santa Ana art gallery Tuesday evening sounds worthy of a film itself. The movie is The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan, and it's screening as part of an Afghan New Year celebration and fundraiser for the main character's village thanks to an artist in residence at the event venue, Great Over Good collective in South Santa Ana.
In an email that could double as a movie pitch, artist Christiana Mohr, 25, of Fountain Valley, reveals bringing the film's British director, Phil Grabsky, to Orange County to screen The Boy Mir for charity began with a dream shortly after she regained consciousness after being hit by a drunk driver last October. A week before that accident, she had seen the documentary after channel surfing in her hotel room in the Arizona desert.
Mohr writes that she had quit her job working for a government contractor as an agricultural technical aid in September and decided to embark on a month-long vacation visiting friends in Colorado with stops in Utah and Arizona on the way back to OC.
"I was going through a deep depression," she explains. "My cousin, who works at a holistic wilderness retreat center in Utah, got me to open up to him while I was visiting him. He was encouraging, but I knew I needed more guidance."
She'd heard about St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery in the southern Arizona desert, where an elaborate system of gardens, pathways and gazebos with Spanish fountains were known to allow day visitors to clear their heads. It was a near-empty hotel near the monastery where Mohr landed on The Boy Mir on a local PBS station.
"He looked just like my little brother," she recalled of the main character. "We're Chinese-Danish-American. I was shocked. I started when the film was already 20 minutes in and I had no idea what was going on, but I was sucked into the screen and had to finish it."
The titular subject had a complicated family life, nearly no belongings and very little education, yet Grabsky portrayed him as enthusiastic, energetic and excelling in school. Those in the boy's tiny ethnic-Hazara mountain village had fled famine and fundamentalist Islam rule after the Taliban six months after 9/11 blew up giant stone Buddhas that had stood for hundreds of years in tall, narrow caves. The villagers returned to their damaged homes after American forces ran out the Taliban, making due as they always had without electricity, running water, sewers or paved roads. Grabsky tracks 10 years in the boy's life until he reaches adulthood. Here is the trailer:
Besides the monks and their tranquil monastery, The Boy Mir had seared itself into Mohr's mind as she drove away for home. She estimates it was about two weeks after seeing the film that she was involved in the collision that sent her to an emergency room.
She was still recovering when she popped up in her chair one day with the idea of emailing Grabsky to ask if she could interview him via Skype for her blog, Clever Freckles, as well as screen his documentary at the artist's collective. His theatrical manager, Leigh Gibson, got back to Mohr that the director would be interested in appearing live at the screening while he toured the U.S. this spring.
After five months of back-and-forth correspondence complicated by the pain from the accident Mohr still endured, Tuesday night's event was born. Here is the poster:
"It kept my mind active," Mohr writes of planning the event through the pain. "I might have gone crazy if I hadn't had anything to wrap my mind around. I say that, but it's ironic: I nearly went crazy planning it."
She continues: "It's just a small event, but I'm not an event planner. I nearly gave up. But by the end, I got a lot of encouragement from my friends, and I felt like Leigh really wanted it to work, too. We'd become pen pals."
Mohr stumbled upon others to help round out the event. Among them is Nooria Farhad, the Afghan-American owner of an import company that specializes in Central Asian textiles, jewelry and Hollywood costumes. She's now the event's charitable partner. The Afghan Consulate General in Los Angeles is also participating in a feel-good gathering that just happens to fall on the Afghan New Year's Eve.
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The film, food and opportunity to learn more about a culture Americans should know more about given national and international news events runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the gallery, 211 E. Columbine Ave., Santa Ana. Tickets are $23 at the door but you can score them for $20 in advance at theboymir.eventbrite.com. Call Mohr at 714.623.1087 or email email@example.com for more details.
"The collision kicked me out of the depths of despair," she mentions near the end of her email. "I'm not 100 percent better--neither mentally nor physically--but I'm glad this is happening. Hopefully everyone will have a great time and we'll be able to raise money for Afghan education initiatives and raise awareness for the plight of Afghan civilians, the Hazara people--who have recently been targeted by militant groups in Pakistan--and independently funded global story-telling."
It takes a storyteller to know one.