Review of "Firedancer"



      Directed by Jawed Wassel


Review by Laimah Osman - Kara Williams




A vast landscape stretches to eternity. A dark night finds a little boy running from his home.


Cut to: New York City 2000. Haris, a stylish Afghan-American artist living in Chelsea is haunted by a traumatic past. He tries to interpret his visions in his artwork but needs more clarity.


Flashback to: Kabul, Afghanistan 1979. A young Haris wakes to gun fire. His father tells him to run and sends him off with a prayer and a promise not to return home. His legacy begins.


Haris, played by Baktash Zaher, is haunted by re-occurring flashbacks of his homeland and he seeks out other Afghans to make sense of his own story which is tied to one of largest diaporas in our time.


FireDancer was written and directed by Jawed Wassel, who was brutally murdered soon after the film premiered in New York. He never witnessed the success of his first film, but his spirit was invoked at the Tribeca Film Festival May 9, 2003 when cast and crew paid homage to his work before a packed theater.


FireDancer is a fictional story based on very real insight into the lives of displaced Afghans in America-- a rarely told cinematic experience. Mr. Wassel, illustrates what happens when Afghan and American cultures meet. Cultural clashes and meshes in FireDancer are both funny and painful reminders of the struggle between assimilation and tradition.


Gossiping voices are heard as we travel along a row of houses in Queens. A father attempts to marry off his daughter to an eligible Afghan thug. And our main character, Haris attempts to find comfort in Laila (played by Mariam Yasmine Weiss) who is initially suspicious because she believes his intentions are for marriage.


Throughout the film Wassel deals with the restrictions of patriarchy as it exists in Afghan culture. The female characters struggle with their intentions to be assertive without breaking ties with tradition. Laila works as a fashion designer, an occupation that is often seen as the common work of a"tailor" by Afghan standards, yet is regarded in America as a creative discipline. Wassel also shows how the transfer of priorities from family to the individual can arouse Afghan-American men to shift loyalties. The father of Laila creates a spectacle when he leaves his wife of twenty years to marry his Latin mistress. We witness the tragic breakdown of a family.


The story culminates when Haris reconciles his past and proclaims: "Afghanhastum," I am Afghan.


From an Afghan-American perspective, FireDancer is a success. Although Mr. Wassel takes on too many issues for one film his story remains an engaging, poetic and haunting tribute to the Afghan-American experience. This film attempts and succeeds in exposing so many issues connected to what it means to be Afghan and American today.