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In ‘Saving Mes Aynak,’ a real-life Indiana Jones fights to protect Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage

Brent Huffman, the director behind the new documentary “Saving Mes Aynak,” tells the story of one of Afghanistan’s archaeological treasures and discusses the threats it faces from a Chinese mining company.

In the dusty mountains about an hour outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, is a place that’s long been prized for what’s buried beneath: copper.

The site is called Mes Aynak, which means “little source of copper,” and contains an estimated $100 billion in deposits. But Mes Aynak is also home to the remains of a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city, as well as statues, paintings, figurines and other artifacts from the previous civilizations dating back some 5,000 years.

That rich archaeological heritage is now in jeopardy as a Chinese state-run mining company, which paid $3 billion for rights to mine the site in 2007, moves forward with plans to turn the site into an open pit mine next year. And that threat is the subject of a new documentary, “Saving Mes Aynak.”

“Basically, they will blow up the entire mountain range and they’ll have to destroy local villages, all of the archaeological remains, including this Bronze Age material,” says director Brent Huffman, who is spearheading a campaign to stop the mine from demolishing the site.

The story is told through of lens of Qadir Temori, the head of the Afghan archaeological department in Kabul. For Huffman, Temori is “this extremely passionate, almost like Hollywood-casting good looking, Indiana Jones type character, who’s really braving all of this risk and being very courageous, going against the Taliban, going against this Chinese mining company, going against the bureaucracy in the country to try to save essentially the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.”

“The heart of the film is really this story of Afghan archaeologists risking their lives.” Huffman said.

“Saving Mes Aynak” debuts this weekend in Amsterdam at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.