I was 21 years old, traveling through the south of France, when a Moroccan merchant told me that I was going to make a film. I was in the town of Montpelier. It was a Sunday in August 2001 and everything was closed except for an outdoor bazaar in the center of town. I was looking at scarves and I heard a man say, “You’re traveling, maybe you will write a book.” I looked up to find a very thin Moroccan vendor smiling at me. “No,” he said, “You are going to make a film.” I was about to start my last year of film school, so this prediction absolutely floored me, “I’m a film student,” I said, “How did you know that?” He smiled again and replied, “I know many things. You will help many many people, but you must not worry so much.” I don’t know if it was his statement, or if it was the way he said it with such certainty, but I burst into tears. Tears that were flowing from the deepest part of my heart. “These are ancient tears,” he said, “your family has a bright future. You will find your heart in the desert.”
One month later two planes flew into the World Trade Center and my life changed forever. I knew right away what I was going to be making a film about, and I knew why I cried so hard when that Moroccan man predicted my future. My soul knew before my life had caught up with it. That year my parents sold everything they owned and moved back to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country. Afghanistan had been my father’s cause for my entire life. I had never dreamed that he and my mother would be moving back there, or that I would have the chance to travel there in my lifetime. Just a few months after graduating from USC School of Cinematic Arts, I was on a plane headed to Kabul with a Canon GL2, a bunch of mini DV tapes, and an old manual Nikon camera. I didn’t think I was making a film at that point. I thought I was feeling out the situation to figure out which story I would eventually tell.
As we approached Kabul I looked down at the mountains and fell in love with the country. I felt like I was home. I saw past the bullet holes and rubble. Past the AK 47s and bombed out buildings. I felt the spirit of the land and people, and it resonated deeply within me. I made friends with children in the streets and provinces, visited the nomadic people in their tents, and met fascinating international people who were there to witness and be part of this very historic moment in time. I was 22 years old and felt like my life had infinitely expanded. I was too young to see any potential danger ahead. I thought this was it: Afghanistan was free at last! And the people there felt it as well. It was a beautiful time.
I continued traveling to Afghanistan and documenting my trips in photographs and on mini DV tapes. I still didn’t know exactly how I would tell this story, I just had to capture everything I was experiencing. Each trip was more resonant than the last. On a trip in 2006, I started incorporating my journeys to Afghanistan into my music. I had been a multi-media artist my whole life, but up until that point, my journeys to Afghanistan had been a separate part of my art. It was all becoming one, in a very natural way.
One morning, in February 2007, my mom called from Kabul and said that things were getting much worse. There had been more attacks and a Taliban resurgence. I knew from the tone in her voice that it was bad. I hung up the phone and said to my band mate, “Max, I think we should record an album in Afghanistan.” It had been a lifelong dream to collaborate with Afghan musicians. He agreed without hesitation. My friend Emily Lynch called and said, “I think I should come along and document the making of your album.” I said, “Great.” So, Emily came along with a Sony PD 150 and three months later we were all on a plane to Kabul to make an album and document the process.
When we returned from Kabul and started watching tapes of the recording process, I showed Emily some of the footage from my earlier trips to Afghanistan. I had also been interviewing my parents for years; I showed her those tapes as well. She watched it all and said, “Wow, this story is so much bigger than the making of the album. It’s the story of your family and Afghanistan.” In April of 2009, we took another trip to Kabul for additional interviews and to document more of my parents. When we returned, I started digging through the garage and discovered boxes of old Super 8mm reels, VHS tapes, and photos my dad had collected since the 60s. I continued digging deeper and deeper into our family history and specifically into my father’s history as an activist. It was almost as if the film had started making itself decades ago. We assembled a really wonderful post production team and started editing together hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of photographs. We decided to raise our post-production costs through Kickstarter. Our Kickstarter campaign spread like wildfire. We aimed to raise $10,000 and ended up raising $23,000. Ultimately, we made this film for $23,144, plus a few plane tickets and hundreds of mini DV tapes.
Though I continued to discover how I would tell this story, I guess I knew in my heart that I was making this film all along, ever since that Moroccan man told me I would be traveling, and that I would make a film. The process was born out of pure love and an ever-present fear that all of the beautiful friends I made throughout my journeys would one day be forgotten again. I knew that fundamentalism could once again rob their freedom and their future. On my last trip to Kabul our driver watched me as I was filming a pile of garbage in the street. He said, “Ariana, in the morning I want to take you to the top of Wazir Akbar Khan. I want to show you the real view of Kabul.” I felt sad and embarrassed, as I realized I had hurt his pride. He did not want me to show the poverty of his land to the world. So in the morning he drove me to the top of the mountain. The view was breathtaking. The sun was rising and everything looked so peaceful and golden. A beautiful fog cradled the buildings, which seemed perfectly in tact from this perspective. The city was ancient and full of hope.
Afghanistan has given me the most beautiful gift of my life so far. I have learned to have hope in the face of darkness. I have learned that life is long, we must have a larger perspective from high above the land, and we must not ever give up on our brothers and sisters in faraway lands, for we need them just as much as they need us. I hope that through We Came Home, I can share just a little bit of this gift with everyone. And I hope that one day, together, we can call everywhere on our beautiful planet “Home.”