In a bid to save a 5,000 year-old Buddhist archeological site by raising international pressure on a Chinese state-owned mining company, the Afghanistan government, and UNESCO, the filmmakers of Saving Mes Aynak, are launching a campaign on Indiegogothe world’s largest crowdfunding platform.
Through the campaign the documentary’s director Brent E. Huffman and documentary collective Kartemquin Films (Life Itself, Hoop Dreams) will bring viewers around the world together to watch the film via VHX on July 1st, 2015 – “Global #SaveMesAynak Day” – with an initial 10% of the campaign goal of $50,000 of raised funds going directly to funding archeologists preserving the site. Should the filmmakers exceed their goal, they will double that direct donation to 20%.
The filmmakers hope to add thousands of signatures to a Change.org petition asking Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to spare the site from destruction via designation as a . They plan to present the petition to him in person in Kabul following the Afghanistan premiere of the film.
Public link to Saving Mes Aynak campaign (live 1pm ET): http://igg.me/at/SaveMesAynak
Saving Mes Aynak follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the 5,000-year-old archaeological site Mes Aynak- located within Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Logar Province. and of untold historical and cultural importance – from imminent demolition by a China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned mining company.
The company is eager to harvest an estimated $100 billion dollars worth of copper is located beneath the Mes Aynak site, but archaeologists estimate that only 10% of the site has been excavated. Already over 400 Buddhist statues, stupas and relics have been discovered, and artifacts dating from the Bronze age have also been found. Some believe future discoveries at the site have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself. Qadir Temori and his fellow Afghan archaeologists face what seems an impossible battle against the Chinese, the Taliban and local politics to save their cultural heritage from likely erasure.
The time to act is now. 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. With Mes Aynak, we aren’t up against religious fundamentalists, but a corporation. But, as our film shows, they have repeatedly bowed to public pressure and delayed mining. It’s our hope that we can build enough awareness globally to permanently change their mind, and for the government of Afghanistan to petition UNESCO to make Mes Aynak a protected World Heritage Site. We think this is the only way it can be saved now, and the film is the tool that will drive that pressure.
“The more that people are able to see the film, and the more who sign the Change.org petition asking Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to request UNESCO make Mes Aynak a world heritage site, the greater the chances that Mes Aynak and its invaluable history can be saved. That would be a victory for Buddhists, Afghanistan heritage, and anyone who cares about world history. Director Brent E. Huffman 
The campaign will last 60 days in order to give it time to reach as many people world wide as possible,”. “We are trying to get broadcasters around the world to show the film in that week and help us bring pressure on the situation, but we also know from our social media analytics that there is a passionate audience already for this film in countries where broadcast documentary isn’t possible in this timeframe. 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.  Zak Piper,  Producer of Saving Mes Aynak 
Donations will go towards the film’s outreach and awareness efforts to put pressure on the Afghan government to overturn their decision, and a portion of every contribution will go directly towards the site and its courageous archeologists, who risk their lives everyday by entering the Taliban-controlled region. In addition to the unprecedented #SaveMesAynak Day, which will allow audiences around the world to live stream the film together, Indiegogo supporters will be able to pre-order Saving Mes Aynak in various forms, arrange community screenings, and contribute towards saving the site through the campaign’s many perks.
Following the #SaveMesAynak Day, the film will be broadcast in a number of countries around the world, including on Al Jazeera America and Al Jazeera English, and will be available to screen to a combination of educational institutions and community venues.
The film world premiered in November 2014 at IDFA, the world’s largest documentary festival, and debuted in the US in 2015 at American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs and at Full Frame Documentary Festival.
Mes Aynak (meaning “little copper well” in Pashto) is a barren, mountainous site in Logar Province, Afghanistan, 25 miles southeast of Kabul near the Pakistan border. At the heart of the Silk Road, the site contains Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit as well as remains of two large ancient settlements: a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city of 500,000 sq. meters on top of a 5,000-year-old Bronze age site. The Buddhist site contains dozens of temples, thousands of artifacts, and around 600 large Buddha statues – similar to those destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 at Bamiyan.
China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned enterprise, paid $3 billion dollars to the Afghanistan government in 2007 for the mining rights at Mes Aynak. Using a contract written with little oversight and no environmental protection, the Chinese government plans to use open-pit mining – the cheapest yet most environmentally destructive mining approach. If pursued, open-pit mining would destroy the entire site as well as six surrounding villages, leaving behind nothing but massive toxic craters. No one would be able to live in the area ever again, and the remaining artifacts and information of the ancient sites would be lost forever.
Brent E. Huffman, director of Saving Mes Aynak, began researching and filming at Mes Aynak in 2011. Small-scale excavations by local Afghan archaeologists, including Qadir Temori, had just begun. Brent, working alone with only the assistance of a local translator, filmed 250 hours of footage throughout 18 months.
Archaeologists estimate full excavation of Mes Aynak to take 30-40 years, yet were given three sporadic years by the Chinese mining company. This has caused them to perform rescue archaeology, a form of excavation meant to salvage much in little time, but can be just as destructive as looting. The World Bank claims Mes Aynak to be the most expensive dig in the world ($10-30 million dollars), yet little money has been given to workers leaving them without necessary equipment like computers, cameras, and chemicals, as well as months without pay. Additionally, the archaeologists risk their lives by having to avoid hidden landmines and constant death threats from the Taliban.
While excavating ballooned during filming, it has recently diminished as the threat of violence from the Taliban worsened. MCC’s copper mining is scheduled to begin in early 2015. Afghanistan has been going through recent positive change, including its new President Ashraf Ghani. A former anthropologist and economist, Ghani shows potential of supporting a newly resubmitted petition to save Mes Aynak.  However, President Ghani recently visited Beijing to meet with the President of China about prioritizing mining projects in Afghanistan including Mes Aynak.
The goals Saving Mes Aynak hopes to achieve are to 1.) Stop the copper mining project at Mes Aynak (leaving it as a preserved and protected cultural heritage site), 2.) Discontinue rescue archaeology, and 3.) Raise money for the Archaeology Department at the Afghan Ministry of Culture in Kabul to protect Mes Aynak and other sites in Afghanistan (via Afghans for Tomorrow). These goals can be achieved by rallying large international support in showing Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage, partnering with heritage organizations like Global Heritage Fund who can advise on protecting Mes Aynak, and presenting the official petition to the new President of Afghanistan.
This official #SaveMesAynak Change.org Petition will be presented to the new Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, asking him to preserve the site from destruction by requesting it be desginated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Afghans Matin Wasei; Ofran Badakhshani and Faramarz Ahmadi were the creators of this in 2012, raising over 70,000 signatures. Due to this international support, enough pressure was put on the Afghan government to temporarily delay mining for one year – a huge victory for this campaign. But not the final victory we hope to achieve in 2015 with the #SaveMesAynak campaign.
ABOUT Kartemquin Films
A collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society, Kartemquin sparks democracy through documentary. Their films, such as The InterruptersThe Trials of Muhammad Ali, and The New Americans have left a lasting impact on millions of viewers. A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by audience and community engagement strategies, and for its innovative media arts community programs.
Their recent films include Steve James’ Life ItselfUsama Alshaibi’s American ArabKirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare’s The HomestretchJoanna Rudnick’s On BeautyDan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden’s Almost There; Brent Huffman’s Saving Mes Aynak; and Hard Earned, a six-hour series for Al Jazeera America.
Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. www.kartemquin.com
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