Written and Directed by Jawed Wassel

Running Time: 1:19

Not Rated


Baktash Zaher
as Haris

Mariam Weiss
as Laila

Samira Cameron
as Zohra

Yunis Azizi
as Rustum

David Azizi
as Sunny

Omar Arzo
as Farhad

Naqi Sani
as Zari

Middle East Views I
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Middle East Views III
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Pilgrimage To Karbala
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Fire Dancer is a film whose creation might be a better known story than the movie itself. It is at times humorous and moving, but also slow and preachy.


Haris was a young child in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded. His parents were killed, but he managed to escape. Now, he is an artist in New York, struggling to make it in the world. He is tormented by nightmares of his childhood and isn't sure what they mean. One day, he meets a fellow Afghani selling food on the street, and is taken in as part of the family. He enters the Afghani world in New York, a world he never knew existed. There he meets Laila, a young Afghani woman whose parents and brother are the more traditional type. Her brother yells at her for coming home late, and working instead of meeting her new husband. Her parents have arranged a marriage for her with a local thug and it is not something she relishes. But through Haris, she might have an escape. And the two of them might have the chance to get rid of old demons.


Fire Dancer was a decent enough movie. Not extremely well acted, and the story wasn't altogether great, but it gets applause for getting made. It was the first Afghanistani film submitted for Academy Award consideration. And the back story of what happened after initial filming and screening were completed is a movie in itself. I'll get to that later. The first half of the movie I found more entertaining than the second. It had a lot more humor and I felt something for the characters. Haris, the struggling New York artist, could be any one of us here in New York. But his past is something that none of us hopefully have to deal with. Living with the painful memories of his parents death, coming to America all alone and trying to make it in here is not easy. Laila wants to be more modern, but her parents and her brother keep pulling her back into the past. She doesn't want to be forced to marry some Afghani gangster, just because it's expected of her, or because the aunties gossip about her on the phone. She just wants to live her life in America the best she can. Those are stories a lot of second generation immigrants can relate to, and on that level, Fire Dancer was a good movie. But the second half of the film gets bogged down in preaching to the audience. When a film can balance humor with a political stance, it's more entertaining than telling the audience what to feel. Let me decide how I want to feel. There is a scene where Haris is beaten up by fellow Afghanis and afterwards he captures one of them and lectures him on how to treat each other. That kind of preachiness is what brings a film down. It's heart is in the right place, but it feels out of place.

The backstory of the making of the film is interesting in its own right. The filmmaker, Jawed Wassel, was murdered by one of his close friends and producers, after the film was completed. The night of the first screening, Wassel didn't show up, and the police later found his decapitated head in the producer's fridge. The film then was re-edited and had the music changed, and was shown in a stadium in Kabul, where the Taliban used to execute people. There is a scene in the movie where a woman shows a lot of cleavage, and the all-male crowd got into such an uproar, that the new director had to place something over the lens of the projector to cover up the image.


So overall, it has been a long, hard journey for Fire Dancer to make it into theaters, and for that reason, it deserves a look. I can't say it's one of the year's best films, or anything of that nature, but read a little about how it was created, and you'll look at it through a completely different light.

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reviewed 05/31/04

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