You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Son of a Lion

"Son of a Lion" packs emotional punch and engaging political discussion into the tale of a sensitive boy.

Niaz Afridi - Niaz Khun Shinwari Sher Alam Afridi - Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad Baktiyar Afridi - Baktiyar Ahmed Afridi Agha Jaan - Agha Jaan Anousha Baktiyar - Anousha Vasif Shinwari Grandma - Fazal Bibi Pite Afridi - Khaista Mir Hayat Afridi - Hayat Khan Shinwari

A commendable addition to the growing number of films centered on children in post-9/11 Islamic societies, “Son of a Lion” packs emotional punch and engaging political discussion into the tale of a sensitive boy who wants to go to school rather than follow his fundamentalist father into the gun-making business. Cast with non-professionals living in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, pic reps a promising debut by Aussie helmer Benjamin Gilmour and should roar into plenty of fests following world preem at Pusan. Arthouse distribution beckons locally and offshore niche play is a possibility.

Dusty locale is a home to Pashtuns, an ethnic Afghan group that enjoyed positive Western press while ousting Soviet occupiers from Afghanistan before being reviled as the largest contingent inside the Taliban. Though it’s unclear whether he’s part of the latter regime, widowed father Sher Alam Afridi (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) is proud of his record fighting the Europeans and is determined to raise son Niaz (Niaz Khun Shinwari) according to strict Islamic law.

Eleven years old and painfully aware of being illiterate, the shy boy shows little enthusiasm working at his father’s gun shop and testing the weapons they manufacture by hand. Dutifully running errands that include buying hashish for his grandfather, the lad is happiest visiting Agha Jaan (Agha Jaan), a friendly poet who reads letters written to Niaz from the big city of Peshawar by his cousin Anousha (Anousha Vasif Shinwari).

Scared to confront his father about wanting an education and receiving little support from his traditionalist grandmother (Fazal Bibi), it’s up to Anousha’s open-minded father, Baktiyar Afridi (Baktiyar Ahmed Afridi) to take up the cause. Holding up enrollment papers he’s hopefully obtained, Baktiyar is unable to convince his unyielding brother to sign on the dotted line. Result is a family squabble that finds Niaz running away to Peshawar where he makes a forlorn figure outside a school gate before being taken home by his uncle.

Finely tuned screenplay written by Gilmour in close collaboration with cast members and community representatives balances the domestic conflict with scenes of Sher Alam and his friends discussing the state of things. In tea houses and barbershops, the men express a wide variety of opinions on everything from Osama bin Laden to the war on terror and, inevitably, the regional role of the U.S.

These illuminating insights into how ordinary people in this region view the world deliver a vital understanding of the cultural factors surrounding Niaz’s desire to look outward and better himself.

At the hour mark, the boy musters the courage to tell his father he does not want to do what has been expected of him since birth. Careful not to make a monster of the father, narrative maps out a convincing path for him to form an understanding of the life his son wants to lead.

A pivotal moment arrives when Sher Alam takes a long, hard look at a photo portrait of Niaz holding a rifle; another when he discovers his son has helped save the life of Pite (Khaista Mir), a bully who has tormented and humiliated Niaz.

Key to the film’s success is its simplicity. Gilmour, an ambulance officer by trade, achieves fine results from an untrained cast whose expressive performances make the tale feel authentic at every turn. Nicely framed compositions with a minimum of travelogue add to the feeling. Score by Amanda Brown mixes traditional instruments and modern rhythms to lovely effect. Pristine DV-to-35mm transfer rounds out a pro tech package.

Son of a Lion


Production: A Benjamin Gilmour, Carolyn Johnson Films, Leapfrog Prods. and Australian Film Commission production. (International sales: Carolyn Johnson Films, Sydney.) Produced by Carolyn Johnson. Executive producer, Hayat Khan Shinwari. Co-producers, Benjamin Gilmour, Jeff McDonald. Directed by Benjamin Gilmour. Screenplay, Gilmour, in collaboration with the people of Kohat and Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan.

Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Gilmour, Haroon John; editor, Alison McSkimming Croft; music, Amanda Brown; sound (Dolby Digital), John; assistant director, Hayat Khan Shinwari. Reviewed at Pusan Intl. Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 6, 2007. Running time: 92 MIN. (Pashto dialogue)

With: Niaz Afridi - Niaz Khun Shinwari Sher Alam Afridi - Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad Baktiyar Afridi - Baktiyar Ahmed Afridi Agha Jaan - Agha Jaan Anousha Baktiyar - Anousha Vasif Shinwari Grandma - Fazal Bibi Pite Afridi - Khaista Mir Hayat Afridi - Hayat Khan Shinwari

More Film

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Citizen Kane,” “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, has died at 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of the fund. With partner Mario Kassar, Vajna [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. Araiza [...]

  • 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Review: A Quietly

    Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate'

    John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan may have received major award nominations this season for their fine work in “Stan & Ollie,” but there’s arguably a superior Laurel & Hardy tribute act to be found in the droll Danish comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate.” As a pair of bumbling losers who turn an already dubious business [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content