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NYFF 2018 Review: “Angels are Made of Light” (2018) ★★★★★


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© Angels Film, LLC

Children are like planted seeds – we must be careful when it comes to taking care of them. We must water them with as much knowledge as we can if we want them to blossom. So, the question is, how can we help them succeed in this life? What should we do for them so that they can become a better version of themselves? Documentaries like “Angels are made of Light” are a sad reminder of how we kill our only hope for a better future and how we neglect the only thing we have – our children.

Indeed, we must have forgotten that we don’t live forever. That this planet will still exist long after we’re gone, and that it’s better to pass it to the next generation in one piece so that they know better how to handle this and simply not take it for granted. But if we take away their chance to be educated enough, what can we really expect? How can the same children fulfil our expectation when we were greedy and jealous enough to not share the most powerful weapon we had – knowledge?

Directed by James Longley, the powerful and important “Angels are Made of Light” takes us to the heart of Afghanistan’s Kabul, where we meet our first narrator, Sohrab. He, through reading books, realizes that it’s his only way to become much more than just a labour than won’t help him to succeed in this life. His older brother, Rostam, shares the same concern, while their younger brother, Yaldash, dreams of better education that this world can provide, but not the war that has taken his chance to become, perhaps, a future leader of Afghanistan.

Through the archival footages, the viewer can see the difference between Afghanistan then and now, the education of the past and the current times that does not do much to contribute to the society. The upcoming rigged election fuels tension into the discussion of what comes next for the country, but everyone knows nothing much can than what they already have right now. As we delve deeper into Kabul’s Daqiqi Balkhi school, we see how the teachers are trying to give enough knowledge to the students, so they can be armed with books and not pistols.

The male teacher says, “There’s no difference between the current school and old one under the tents. Each class is 35 mins. And when I go into the classroom, the teacher and students are sitting idle. When I ask what’s going on, he will say, “I’ve finished my lesson.” The students don’t have any problems. In the next classroom, they say, “The kids don’t understand, so why should I care?”  If you’re a teacher, then accept your responsibilities and earn your pay. If we fail in our task, it’s worse for the kids than narcotics.” There’s truth in his words, isn’t it?

On the other hand, Roqul, an elderly cleaning woman blames herself for obeying her father’s order of abandoning school to get married at the age of thirteen. She recalls that there are boys whose fathers would not allow them to attend school claiming that, “They will become bright-minded and stand against us,” acknowledging the fact that once opened wide, eyes cannot be shut tight anymore. And what has been learned cannot be unlearned. And that knowledge is power in some corrupt countries where it has been turned off by one gentle click.

In conclusion, James Longley is unapologetic in letting his camera follow every documentary subject to capture their view of Kabul the way it is, their fallen dreams, hopes and the future they don’t see as promising. How the decades-old war, politics, and greed brought the eastern country to its knee, and with it, its children as well. Do we really have to let the young girl say, “We’re in this world, and we must struggle. It’s only a brief blooming of life and then we die. We grow old and then we die.” Don’t you think it’s something else we, perhaps, must hear from her?

That said, we can ask ourselves as much as we can, or as long as our energy will allow us to repeat ourselves. But will change come with this? Hope is the only thing we have as well as our belief in angels that are made of light. All what we need is to do out best for that light to not get replaced with darkness, whereas in some parts of the world the same darkness is the supreme ruler….

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