For Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour (Paramedico, Son of A Lion) filmmaking is a deadly serious business. Any doubts about that can be put to rest with his new film Jirga – a film which put him in great danger to film.
The film centres around Mike Wheeler (Sam Smith – The Nightingale, Rake) an Australian soldier who decides to travel make to Afghanistan to make amends to a family whom he shot the father of during the war against the Taliban. Originally Jirga was supposed to be shot in Pakistan but that was stopped when the Pakistan Secret Service found out about the film. Instead Gilmour decided to shoot the film in Afghanistan – which again put them all at risk.
HEAVY Mag recently caught up with Gilmour to chat about what went into Jirga being made.
“A few things converged for the film to come about,” says Gilmour when asked where the idea for the film came from. “Certainly there have been cases where soldiers have fought in a war and for them it has been unforgettable, their lives have been ruined by those experiences. Some with post traumatic stress disorder have then travelled back to places like Vietnam and East Timor but so far I have never heard of a soldier going back to beg forgiveness for a particular family because of a civilian they have killed in Afghanistan, but since the film has been edited and we’ve held a few screenings I have been contacted by people who have told me that they know of members of the SAS who have gone back to Afghanistan to help rebuild some of those villages and have gone back to live in those villages for a time. I really wanted to explore the top of reconciliation and even though we haven’t seen it yet it is available to those soldiers who are suffering.”
“Being contacted by a financier who wants to bankroll your next film is every filmmaker’s dream,” says Gilmour as we touch on how filming Jirga became a nightmare. “And this happened to me. I was contacted by a Pakistani businessman who was a fan of my first film Son Of A Lion… he really supported what the film stood for and wanted to get behind another film shot in the region. I just happened to be writing Jirga at the time, which was set in Afghanistan, and I thought why not shoot the film on the border with Pakistan, on the Pakistani side, they have the same ethnicity there and it looks very similar… plus I would have the safety of being in Pakistan. So I arrived in Pakistan with the actor, Sam Smith, and we found out that this backer had not put the film past the Secret Service and then when he did and they read the script they deemed it too politically sensitive and they decided that not only were they not going to support it but they weren’t going to issue permission for us to shoot and we would have to leave the country and after that came all of the intimidation from the Secret Agents who basically hounded us out of the country. So that put us on the spot but it forced us to go and film the film where it should have been shot in the first place, Afghanistan, and that was the only way we were going to get a truly authentic experience of that country.”
Make sure you listen to our full audio interview with Benjamin Gilmour to hear what exactly went into making Jirga.
Jirga is in cinemas now.