My short bio: Enter stuff here

Hello, I'm Brent Huffman, and I made a documentary called Saving Mes Aynak ( Mes Aynak is a 500,000 sq. meter archaeological site in (largely Taliban-controlled) Logar Province, Afghanistan that contains an ancient 2,000-year-old Buddhist city on top of a 5,000-year-old Bronze Age site. At the heart of the Silk Road for over a millennium, Mes Aynak contains monastic complexes, unique Buddhist stupas, countless artifacts from religious and daily life, and around 600 large Buddha statues – similar to those destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 at Bamiyan. What's even more astounding is that the site is only 10% excavated.

But beneath Mes Aynak is one of the largest copper deposits in the world, and the site was sold by the Afghan government to a Chinese State-owned mining company who plan to blow it up to open-pit mine for an estimated $100 billion worth of copper.

I'm part of a growing coalition fighting to stop Mes Aynak's impending destruction and preserve it for all future generations.

Check out our trailer here, too: Trailer!

I'm a professor of journalism at Northwestern University and an award-winning director, writer, and cinematographer of social issue documentaries and television programs. My work ranges from documentaries aired on The Discovery Channel, The National Geographic Channel, and CNN, to Sundance Film Festival premieres. My newest documentary, Saving Mes Aynak, is both a love letter to the history of Afghanistan, and a call to action for people everywhere to save this amazing world heritage site. Ask me anything!

My Proof:

Comments: 79 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

sonic_cherry20 karma

Thank you so much for your work. I'm desperate to join in on the excavation and this didn't help. :-)

What were the logistics of travel like? You mentioned in another comment about hiding under a blanket while driving through certain villages, was that a regular occurrence?

SavingMesAynak13 karma

The security situation was pretty bad in 2012/2013 but has improved since then. The site is badly mismanaged by the Ministry of Mines at the moment - Afghan archaeologists go without pay often. There is only a skeleton crew now excavating. They could use your help! I'm just not sure how you might get involved at the moment.

sonic_cherry8 karma

I'd be there in a however long it takes to fly to Afghanistan. Any chance you have the contact info for the site director or the crew chief?

SavingMesAynak9 karma

Yes, please contact me on the Saving Mes Aynak facebook page. There are different ways to get to Kabul. Fly to Turkey and stay the night - then fly to Kabul on a shorter flight.

sonic_cherry4 karma

I sent you a message. Thank you so much!

SavingMesAynak4 karma

Sure! Thank you!

joshuacampbell9 karma

Is there anyway that mining can still occur (along with the much needed economic benefits) and yet still preserve the local heritage?

SavingMesAynak14 karma

Good questions. The answer is yes. MCC can mine in other ways (not open pit) in other areas (not at the archaeological site) - but the Chinese company doesn't want to do that. Not yet anyway.

SavingMesAynak12 karma

And there will be little economic benefit to Afghanistan. Money will be lost to corruption, jobs go to the Chinese, and the resource (copper) is forever removed from Afghanistan. Meanwhile world heritage is forever destroyed, human rights are violated by demolishing villages and poisoning drinking water, and the environment of Mes Aynak is forever destroyed.

nanireddit0 karma

Corruption is no excuse for halting the development of a country, as for "jobs go to the Chinese", how many local professional workers capable of working at a modern mining company?
And of course the resource is forever removed, cause they sell it, that's how business done. btw: I absolutely support you protecting this precious cultural heritage site.

SavingMesAynak7 karma

Thank you for your support. I don't believe this deal will help develop Afghanistan in any positive way.

joshuacampbell5 karma

Are there avenues that pressure can be applied by other international governments? Especially ISAF ones given the recent history with the country.

SavingMesAynak7 karma

Yes, this would work - but few want to get involved as being critical of this deal with the Chinese government (MCC is a state-owned company) could harm their relationship with China.

joshuacampbell5 karma

Has anyone tried going down the world heritage route? Does it even meet the criteria?

SavingMesAynak11 karma

Yes, that is our plan - to involve UNESCO the Afghan gov would have to officially formally invite them - and give them access.

Websoup9 karma

How does someone join a cause like yours? I have always wanted to stop people from destroying historical artifacts, whether it's a country, a terror group, or any other group of people without any concern for history.

SavingMesAynak8 karma

You can get involved here: There is a link to our official petition. Thank you!!

Off_Topic_Oswald6 karma

I saw your video a few years ago where you talked about the city and it's imminent destruction. (I'm actually pretty surprised it hasn't already been destroyed with the way things were looking) What I want to ask is what do you think this excavation site has to offer us? What would you argue is the benefit of preserving it?

SavingMesAynak16 karma

There is 5,000 years (at least) of history buried at Mes Aynak. I see no benefit in destroying it - that would be equivalent to erasing world history. MCC can mine in other ways (not open pit) and in other areas that would not destroy ruins. They are discovering amazing things at the site - some of the oldest manuscripts ever discovered.

akarmamojo6 karma

How long were you filming for and how often did you go? What was seeing Mes Aynak in person like, I heard it's an unbelievable site (sight)

SavingMesAynak8 karma

I have been filming since 2011 - so for four years. Mes Aynak is awe inspiring - a massive site over 500,000 sq meters in size. Comparable to Machu Picchu and Pompei.

roubz885 karma

What can you tell us briefly about Mes Aynak? Aynak in Arabic means the Eye.. And this is what caught my eye! I'm intrigued, and was wondering how are you going to stop them from excavating ?? This should get on the news and spread more awareness

SavingMesAynak5 karma

Yes, I am trying to get the word out! I have done reports on all the major networks - CNN, NY Times, PBS, Al Jazeera - but it is still not enough.

SavingMesAynak7 karma

Lots of info about Mes Aynak here:

SavingMesAynak6 karma

It is a sprawling 5,000 year old site with Buddhist and Bronze age layers. Over 600 Buddha statues, dozens of temples, etc. Some of the oldest written material ever discovered. Right on the Silk Road.

penalba2 karma

What texts?

SavingMesAynak1 karma

Some of the oldest Buddhist manuscripts ever discovered have been found at Mes Aynak.

liamquane4 karma

Hi Do you have any screenwriting advice? :~)

SavingMesAynak5 karma

Use a story arc that builds to a strong climactic moment.

liamquane4 karma

Do you have any directorial advice?

SavingMesAynak3 karma

Keep directing. Never give up on a project. Be true to your vision. Believe in yourself - even when no one else does.

lalop4 karma

Will the documentary be available online?

SavingMesAynak3 karma

You can see the film via our Indiegogo campaign. You can find the link to that at the top of the page here:

lalop3 karma

Thanks, somehow I managed to miss the bright orange banner at the top...

SavingMesAynak2 karma

No problem!

Eshou4 karma

I applaud your efforts, but going to play devil's advocate: If it was an Afghanistan - controlled site, and they had every right to handle it the way they did, what makes it proper for you to fight against that? Regardless of the corruption or anything; I'm thinking of the legality of the issue. Sorry, and I wish you the best!

SavingMesAynak13 karma

Good comment. On legality I do think there are actual laws protecting world heritage. But I am acting on my own moral code - raising awareness about something that is wrong and terribly destructive to world heritage, human rights and to the environment.

meskarune4 karma

How do the people of Afghanistan feel about your efforts? Are they also against the mine or do they prefer to get revenue from mining?

SavingMesAynak13 karma

People in Afghanistan have been supportive of my efforts, but as a worn torn country there is a strong desire for economic hope. There has been a lot of misinformation about mining in Afghanistan.

SavingMesAynak11 karma

Due to corruption Afghanistan the Afghan people won't see any economic benefit from this mining deal. The Chinese company will bring in its own high level workers. And there will be permanent environmental damage done to the whole area. I have been trying to spread this message as well as the message that the archaeological site needs saving.

sob3k4 karma

Firstly, i want to wish you good luck in your fight and thank you :) Secondly... Have you ever tried to contact Chinese goverment? I know, it would change anything, but it costs nothing...

SavingMesAynak7 karma

Yes, I made a film about Mes Aynak (called Saving Mes Aynak) where I had to give a question list to the gov. to interview the head of the Chinese company MCC. My wife is Chinese and helped with the translation. They have not been sympathetic to saving Mes Aynak sadly.

sob3k6 karma

What about UNESCO? I mean, its budhistic and Dalai Lama got enough "public power" to convince some powerfull politicians.

SavingMesAynak4 karma

Yes, we want UNESCO to get involved. Unfortunately, the Afghan gov would have to formally invite them. So we are trying to appeal to the Afghan government to do this.

KimUn3 karma

How do you plan to save it? I assume you need more time to excavate the site, but it will eventually be mined. What can we do to help?

SavingMesAynak7 karma

By raising awareness internationally we can put pressure on the Afghan gov. It has been working. Mining was delayed in the past. The vice minister of mines has recently spoken out against the Chinese mining deal. All good news.

SavingMesAynak3 karma

We also have an official petition:

PT102 karma

Why do you think people were upset when the Taliban were doing this but not the Chinese?

SavingMesAynak5 karma

Good question! People were upset when they saw the Buddhas of Bamiyan blown up on TV. I fear people will only be upset about this when they see Mes Aynak blown up. They won't get involved when there is time to save it.

liamquane2 karma

What is the first thing you think of when you start one of your films?

SavingMesAynak6 karma

This is a documentary so I look for great charismatic main characters and dramatic action happening now.

liamquane2 karma

What is it like getting films produced?

SavingMesAynak5 karma

What do you mean? Finding funding?

liamquane2 karma

Yeah sorry. :~P

SavingMesAynak9 karma

With a documentary, you really need to shoot a bit first before applying for funding. A teaser or trailer that shows main characters, access and dramatic action. Then you use that to secure funding via nonprofits, private orgs and crowd funding.

Kartemquin2 karma

Brent, what was the scariest moment of filming at Mes Aynak? Alternatively, what was the happiest?

SavingMesAynak7 karma

Scariest moment was when it rained for about 10 min. And the main road was flooded. I had to hide in the back of my Toyota taxi under a blanket as we drove through villages that supported the Taliban.

SavingMesAynak5 karma

Happiest moment was probably when our efforts to spread awareness resulted in a delay in mining. That our work was making a real difference.

locosherman11 karma

Hey I hope I'm not too late! I really do admire what you're doing by the way :)

Have the Chinese already started mining?

How are the Chinese responding to the threat of the Taliban?

You said that some of the oldest writings ever were discovered at Mes Aynak, what were the writings of?

SavingMesAynak3 karma

Thank you for the support! No, mining has not started - only the MCC compound has been built. Chinese claim some of the delay in mining is due to attacks on their compound. The oldest writing is in the form of Buddhist manuscripts. Nothing at Mes Aynak has been adequately studied. There is still so much mystery at the site.

29holden0 karma

How are you stopping the chinese? Also, off topic: Do You Like Waffles? Do You Like Pancakes? Do You like French Toast? Do Do Do Do Do Do Do Do Waffles!

SavingMesAynak2 karma

Yes on waffles, pancakes and French toast. Who doesn't like those?

We plan on saving Mes Aynak by appealing to the Afghan gov. to protect and preserve Mes Aynak and the many other important archaeological sites in Afghanistan.

sonny411j-1 karma

Favorite soup, sandwich, dessert?

SavingMesAynak4 karma

Lobster bisque, cheese, cheese cake

sogoddamnitchy-3 karma

When the Eight Nation Alliance each carved out a piece of China for their own over a hundred years ago, they were destroying ancient Chinese cities, artifacts and monuments. The French burned the Forbidden Palace and looted many artifacts.

Why don't you campaign for international recognization and reparations for these events? Is it because you secretly hate China? Or because you have a Chinese wife, you think you somehow have a claim over all Chinese people?

SavingMesAynak5 karma

No, I don't "secretly hate China". The real blame for this falls on the Afghan government and orgs like the World Bank funding this operation.

sogoddamnitchy2 karma

Well, thank you for your answer and I wish you all the best with your work.

SavingMesAynak2 karma

Thank you!