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Phoning It In: ‘Midnight Traveler’ Captures an Intimate Vérité Story of a Family on the Run

Shot entirely on the iPhone, Hassan Fazili’s documentary feature detailing his family’s three-year journey fleeing from the Taliban in Afghanistan airs on PBS on December 30.

Once the proprietor of the Art Café in Kabul, where local artists would gather to socialize, Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili was forced to flee his native country following the release of his 2015 documentary Peace, which depicted former Taliban commander Tur Jan after he abandoned the militant group. Shortly after the film aired on Afghan television, the Taliban killed Tur Jan and put a price on Fazili’s head. Together with his wife Fatima, and their two young daughters, Fazili documented their three-year journey to asylum in Germany, where the family lives today.

Shot entirely using the family’s three iPhones, Midnight Traveler premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Award in the World Documentary Competition. Since then, the documentary feature was named on the Features Shortlist for the 35th Annual IDA Documentary Awards, and also received a nomination for Best Documentary from the IFP Gotham Awards. Midnight Traveler was recently picked up by POV, and is set to kick off the long-running documentary series’ 32nd season, airing on PBS stations on Monday, December 30.

Both filmmakers in their own right, Hassan and Fatima Fazili are educating their daughters and encouraging them to be artists. The whole family shot this autobiographical film, which began when they sought and were rejected for refugee protection and follows them along the notorious Balkan smuggling route. As they experienced increasingly degrading circumstances, the family latched on to filmmaking as a way to not just survive, but retain their humanity. “The harder life was for us, the stronger the images were,” Fazili said earlier this year, in an interview with Filmmaker magazine:

“In some scenes, I enjoyed shooting the beautiful images but was simultaneously crying behind the camera. Sometimes when my family was afraid they looked to me for safety. I tried to make myself look strong, but I myself was afraid and didn’t know where to find safety. I was ashamed of myself that I could not do anything for them. I hated myself; I hated the cinema; I wanted to break the mobile phone and beat myself, but I was comforted by the idea that we did not have a role in creating these problems, and this is not my fault, and then I was able to work again.”

Midnight Traveler is a gripping vérité story made by a family on the run. Their unique access and artistic vision provide an intimate portrait of a loving family and the myriad fellow travelers they meet on their odyssey.

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