Ottawa-area filmmaker Najeeb Mirza first saw the sport of buzkashi in Tajikistan in 2004. And he was hooked.
The age-old Central Asian game involves men on horseback competing for control of the headless body of a goat. And it makes playoff hockey look gentle — even this year. Mirza, a bureaucrat who was posted to the region, was entranced. “It’s a crazy, visual sport, so it’s very captivating from a cinematic point of view.”
While Mirza was born in Pakistan, he grew up in Edmonton and had never seen anything like buzkashi, which means goat-grabbing in the Dari language which is widely spoken in the region, including Afghanistan, where the rough-and-tumble event is the national sport.
The game is the subject of Mirza’s fourth documentary, Buzkashi!, which premieres at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto on April 29. In most parts of Central Asia, buzkashi is played with two teams, four men aside. But in Tajikistan, where the film is set, 200 participants play for themselves.
Mirza says the film should appeal to anyone interested in extreme sports and different cultures. “It’s going to be something that some people have never seen before … set in a country or a region that people have never heard of before.”
Despite the exotic subject, he said Canadians will be able to relate to the characters. “You want to tell a really good story that resonates with people … You’re trying to get a universal human story and we can find that in the human stories behind the sport. ”