Midnight Traveller (4 stars)

Midnight Traveller

A family's flight from Afghanistan becomes a gripping and essential documentary

'They don't care about us,' goes the Michael Jackson song featured in Afghan director Hassan Fazili's documentary – a song that feels different in the context of a family's bitter flight for survival. Working with producer-writer Emelie Mahdavian, Fazili shapes his family's escape as a narrative of endless suffering and occasional warmth; it's the kind of story that's all too easy to ignore.

Filmmaker Fazili might have been lauded in another culture, in Afghanistan he and his family are hounded out after he dared to make a Taliban leader his subject. Midnight Traveller begins with the family in exile in Tajikistan in 2015, and invites audiences to follow them as they seek asylum, eking out a desperate existence in half-constructed buildings or overcrowded camps.

With his fellow filmmaker wife Fatima and two young daughters in tow, Fazili and his family capture their plight over a three-year period using three mobile phones: angry nationalist mobs threaten their safety, and there's a heart-stopping scene when one of the children can't be found. This sequence, with Fazili wondering in voiceover whether he should film the search, brings an agonising edge to Midnight Traveller that the childbirth scene brought to the similarly themed For Sama. It might be a contrivance by the filmmakers, but it's one which bluntly forces the audience into the position of the subject. 'Cinema is so dirty,' muses Fazili; given the horrors depicted here, such tactics seem more than justified.

Just taking the time to understand the plight of one family seems like an act of defiance at a time when western leaders are engaged in an ongoing competition to convince voters of how tough they'll be on refugees. Viewers of Fazili's rewarding film may be comparatively few, but Midnight Traveller offers an indelible record of how inhumanity continues to flourish in the early 21st century.

Limited release from Fri 17 Jan.

Midnight Traveller

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • Directed by: Hassan Fazili
  • UK release: 17 January 2020

Documentary by Afghan filmmaker Fazili about his own family’s escape from Afghanistan after he makes a Taliban leader the subject of one of his films. Fazili, his filmmaker wife Fatima and their family filmed their own plight over three years using mobile phones, making for an indelible and harrowing account of being a…