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Filmmakers Launch ‘Saving Mes Aynak’ Campaign for Afghan Archaeological Site

Filmmakers are launching a crowdfunding campaign to save Mes Aynak — a 5,000 year-old Buddhist archaeological site in Afghanistan — aimed at raising international pressure on a Chinese state-owned mining company, the Afghanistan government, and Unesco.

Variety has learned exclusively that the campaign for “Saving Mes Aynak”, which launches Monday, has a goal of raising $50,000 on the Indiegogo platform. Director Brent E. Huffman and documentary collective Kartemquin Films plan to distribute the film via VHX on July 1 with 10% of the raised funds going directly to funding archaeologists in preserving the site.

“Saving Mes Aynak” world premiered in November at the IDFA festival and screened in the U.S. at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs and at the Full Frame Documentary Festival.

Mes Aynak contains Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit and over 400 Buddha statues, stupas and a 100-acre monastery complex. Archaeologists are beginning to find remnants of an older 5,000-year-old Bronze Age site beneath the Buddhist level.

The filmmakers are also hoping add signatures to a Change.org petition asking Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to spare the site from destruction via designation as a Unesco world heritage site.

“Saving Mes Aynak” follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the site — located within Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Logar Province — from demolition by China Metallurgical Group Corp., which obtained rights to mine the site in 2007.

“The time to act is now,” Huffman said. “The world was outraged after the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, and at the recent destruction by ISIS of the Mosul Museum in Iraq. My fear is that we’ll all gasp in horror when the site at Mes Aynak is permanently destroyed — but won’t do much when there was actually time to save it. The difference with Mes Aynak is that we aren’t up against religious fundamentalists, but a corporation.”

Zak Piper, producer of the film, said that he’s trying to get broadcasters around the world to show the film in July but added that there’s already an audience for the film, even in countries where broadcast documentary isn’t possible in this time frame. “Working with Indiegogo and VHX again, as Kartemquin did on the ‘Life Itself’ campaign, seemed like the ideal way to reach as many people globally at once and galvanize them into action through the film,” he said.

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