'Jirga': A new film about stereotypes, unjust war and moral courage

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Benjamin Gilmour and Sam Smith

It's not often that we hear a story about war that humanizes our enemies in a way that is fair, truthful and friendly. Looking at the news coverage of the war in Afghanistan may leave us wondering why after so many years there is still so much unrest.

Writer-director Benjamin Gilmour says, "With Jirga I wanted to counter the Islamic terrorist stereotypes and modern military propaganda we face in the West, demonstrating the true human cost of conflict. Civilians trying to survive in their ravaged lands are not the only ones who believe that war is unjust. Many damaged and disillusioned soldiers have also come to share that view".

Jirga was shot in the starkly beautiful but dangerous landscapes straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mike (played by Sam Smith), is an Australian ex-soldier, returns to Afghanistan in search of a civilian family that he knows he wronged three years earlier. Ultimately, Jirga is a film that rejects simplistic ideas about war, and embraces the human search for forgiveness, redemption, and mercy.

After finding the family of a civilian he accidentally killed during the war, the former Australian soldier returns to Afghanistan to face his demons. His journey from the bustling streets of Kabul to the small village where he hopes to find the family is filled with delays, detours, danger, and, some unexpected respites of beauty and peace. Relentless in his quest for forgiveness, Mike ultimately puts his life in the hands of the village justice system — the Jirga — accepting that the decision of this tribal authority of elders will be binding and irrevocable.

While this story of a former soldier returning to the scene of his past battles is deeply felt, another engaging and important aspect of the film is its insight into the rich culture and traditions of Afghan Muslims.

Benjamin Gilmour, Sam Smith and Face2Face host David Peck talk about the absurdity of war, forgiveness, ethical codes, moral courage and suffering in silence.

While this story of a former soldier returning to the scene of his past battles is deeply felt, another engaging and important aspect of the film is its insight into the rich culture and traditions of Afghan Muslims.

About the director: Benjamin Gilmour is a filmmaker, author and paramedic, based in Northern NSW. His key film credits include the feature Son of a Lion and he documentary Paramedico in 2012. Gilmour lends his experience, as a front-line paramedic, to his work with NGO Trek Medics International, to assist in developing emergency medical systems for low to middle income communities in Africa and Central Asia.

About the actor: Sam Smith is an Australian actor who works in film, television and theatre. His most recent roles include the HBO drama series The Leftovers and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. His past performances include lead roles in Ben Briand's Hammer Bay, winner of both the MTV Optus 180 Project and the Creative Annual Best Long Form Project; and Some Static Started, which was nominated for an Australian Directors Guild award.

Image Copyright: Benjamin Gilmour Taylor. Used with permission.

For more information about David Peck’s podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit his site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

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