Kandahar, Saskatchewan. Population: 15. A world away from Kandahar, Afghanistan both in size (the original Kandahar had 557,000 residents in 2015) and circumstance (as the larger Kandahar is under constant threat from the Taliban).
But a name is a powerful thing, and Kandahar, Saskatchewan (named in honour of the 1880 battle of Kandahar, Afghanistan) is about the only link to his home that Abdul Bari Jamal can find. Jamal came to Canada in 1991 with his wife and five children, refugees all, fleeing their conflicted homeland as the Taliban were taking control. On an impulse, and without telling any of his family, Jamal bought eight plots of land in Kandahar, Saskatchewan, for himself, his wife, and his kids. Ten years after that impulse purchase, Jamal takes his family on a trip to Canada’s Kandahar to let them in on the secret.
Their trip is chronicled by director Aisha Jamal, who not coincidentally is one of Jamal’s five children. The whole family, including their parents, are urbanites to their core, so coming face to face with a dwindling prairie town approaching “ghost town” status is a huge adjustment. But a far more problematic matter soon arises when Mr. Jamal comes up with the idea to use their land to memorialize the 158 Canadians who lost their lives in Afghanistan. Judging from Mrs. Jamal’s shoulder-shrugging reaction, this is not the first such idea that Mr. Jamal has come up with, but his children are greatly shaken by the idea that their father wants to commemorate a force that invaded his homeland rather than the thousands and thousands of Afghans who’ve been killed in the conflict.
It is fascinating to get an inside look at these discussions and disagreements between a family that is clearly close-knit. They have a lot of commonalities to larger issues in our society. In particular, they give great insight into the refugee experience and the differences in attitude between an Afghan-Canadian and his Canadian children. The elder Jamal seems afraid to voice any concern or raise any controversy over Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan, while his children have no such qualms. There’s something significant there about the importance and value of freedom of expression, as well as Canadian identity.
Director Jamal handles these discussions brilliantly, letting both sides exist and allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions while the family drama, which would be sufficiently entertaining on its own, plays on. It is a delicate balance to strike but Jamal successfully melds both aspects together to create a memorable and effective exploration of a very sensitive subject.