Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Talking Jirga with Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour

Talking Jirga with actor Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour

Jirga is playing the New Zealand International Film Festival.
At the film's opening in Australia during the Sydney Film Festival, actor Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour very generously gave of their time to offer some insight into the film, the various problems it faced with filming (after permissions were withdrawn and funding removed, the production had to shoot undercover) and the reason for its redemption arc.

Benjamin Gilmour will present his film in person at its NZIFF screenings.

Tell us a bit about your film
BEN: The film Jirga is about a foreign soldier, an Australian soldier, who goes back to Afghanistan as a tourist – he’s left the army – to track down the family of a civilian that he killed in the heat of battle a few years earlier and to beg their forgiveness. It’s a redemption film. It’s about the ongoing war there that has been… you know, we’re in our 17th year, and the strategy’s not changing, and Afghans are fed up. They’re tired of the war. So it’s addressing those issues; it’s addressing the impact of war on civilians and soldiers and anyone who’s affected by the war. And it’s looking at the real damage that war does across the board and really asks us to be a little bit more careful in sending soldiers thousands of kilometres away to fight on other people’s land against people who are defending their homes.
Talking Jirga with actor Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour

What was your aim with the redemption arc?
BEN: Well, I’ve always been drawn to the concept of forgiveness and mercy. I think of that – probably my religious upbringing – but I believe there is something in the opposite of revenge that is a key to breaking a cycle of violence and leading to peace. And some of the great pacifists spoke about that. I think Gandhi said ‘An eye for an eye makes both parties blind’ or something along those lines. If tit for tat carries on, then it will lead to the destruction of the planet ultimately. So I think at some point, one party has to stop. People have to stop and evaluate and change the tactic, change the strategy. And so I think redemption is part of that, forgiveness is part of that, and that’s the way we can move towards peace.

We're forever exploring the ramifications of conflict on film, what is it about this role that makes  Jirga different?
BEN: The difference between Jirga and a lot of the war films that are coming out of Hollywood, in my opinion, is that in Jirga, you have a soldier that is going back with humility, that is going back with genuine remorse and is putting himself at the feet of the locals. It’s respectful to Afghans, to Muslims on the ground there. Whereas if you pay closer attention to some of these films from Hollywood like American Sniper, for example, that sniper who was responsible for killing up to 200 Iraqis had no remorse about what he did. He suffered because of the tension and the pressure and the difficulties in integrating back into American life. But it has widely been reported that he had no remorse. And the audience is being asked to feel sorry for the soldier alone while the Muslims have been cast as either pathetic or villainous people that are being fought against. So I think there’s a combination of things, but ultimately… I think in Jirga it’s quite different.
SAM: The thing with Jirga, I suppose, is that you’re looking at both sides of the damage as opposed to taking a side in a film and following that line. You kind of go, well, it’s equal— It’s not necessarily equal. Both people feel, you know… And it’s not like one side is wrong, one side is right, one is black and white. It’s…
BEN: There are no winners, and it has sympathy for all. I mean, we’re not asking the audience to feel sorry for the Western soldier who’s killed a Muslim or an Afghan only. It’s the soldier that becomes that vehicle for us to enter the world of how the Afghans feel about that.
Talking Jirga with actor Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour

What were the challenges making the film?
SAM: That’s long. Where do you start?
BEN: The challenges in making this film is a very long list of challenges.
SAM: That’s actually a difficult question because there’s so many to choose from, you know? Do you start where the funding falls out or we rewrite it or we get blocked one day because they think that there are IEDs planted in the cave where we’re gonna film. I mean, it goes on, you know.
BEN: From no money to the security element to the lack of security to the language barrier. Trying to work out what’s going on on the set.
SAM: Also the fact that at the end of the day when we come back to check the footage, we had only Ben’s computer and they’d be full of movies or whatever, and we’d try to watch them, cos we could only watch it in four to five second glitches. So we’d be looking at it and going, ‘Oh, I think that’s in focus there.’ That’s how we would check we had the footage.
BEN: Yeah, it wasn’t good reviewing, and backing up. And after a long day of shooting, you’re trying to…
SAM: Well, you deleted- Remember we shot those scenes…?
BEN: Oh, sure. I accidentally deleted all those takes. I am sure.
SAM: I was furious. I’m sure as well.
BEN: Yeah, you performed and then it was gone.
SAM: It was a dark breakfast that morning.
BEN: I know. It was very hard to break that news to you. I’m terribly sorry about that. Look, after a full day’s shoot, you’re there and you’re filming. You’re trying to deal with the footage and you’re tired, and you just wanna go to sleep and you’re trying to make sure that you’re not messing up the transfer of the data and all the footage and managing that. You know, they’ve got people on proper film sets who’s job it is just to do that. Data wrangling.
SAM: We didn’t have a data wrangler.
BEN: We didn’t have a data wrangler and data went missing as a result, which was a shame.
Talking Jirga with actor Sam Smith and director Ben Gilmour

What's the one moment in the film which stands out to you as an actor and as a director that you hope will resonate with others?
BEN: I hope that people who’ve seen Jirga will question the way we send our soldiers into wars and question the way they deal with conflict in their own lives.
SAM: I hadn’t really thought too much into that line. I just hope people enjoy the film.

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