AFI Docs Review: “We Came Home”

Ariana Delawari’s debut film looks at her efforts to connect to her native Afghanistan through music.

By: Dori Zweig

Still of We Came Home via AFI Docs.

Music is a universal language, a moving force that connects people. It breaks down language barriers. Music is for peace, not war.

These themes feature heavily in Ariana Delawari’s 80-minute documentary, We Came Home. Delawari, a singer/songwriter whose 2009 album Lion of Panjshir encompasses Afghan rhythms, narrates her family’s story both in front of and behind the camera lens.

The film opens with Delawari’s recount of how her family came to America. Her grandfather had been living in his native Afghanistan, and came across an American penny. Reading the words “In God We Trust” had such power over him that he decided to come to the US, eventually sneaking into the country via a trade ship. He started a new life in Los Angeles, married, had children, and watched his children and grandchildren—Delawari included—grow up as Americans.

This moving story depicts three generations of a family, and their efforts to reconcile their American lives and their Afghan heritage. Delawari was born the same year her father realized the main purpose of his life: to go to Afghanistan and try to restore peace in the troubled country. For the next two decades he split his time between Los Angeles and Kabul, where he was a financial adviser to the Afghan president.

The film shows Afghanistan both pre- and post-Taliban, and the differences are striking. A country that once encouraged education and music quickly changes under Taliban rule. Men are forced to hide their musical instruments since music is now prohibited; women are required to cover every inch of their bodies with clothing and are forbidden from going to school.

In 2002, the same year the Taliban falls, Delawari and two musician friends take a trip to Kabul and decide to create an album. With the help of her parents Delawari connects with longtime Afghan musicians, and the latter half of the film follows the somewhat tricky collaboration process. She attempts to communicate with the natives through speech, but realizes music is the key.

The last 30 minutes of the film are filled with melody, reflection, and gratification. Delawari creates a beautiful album with the help of friends both new and old, and reveals through her own efforts how music can bring people together. We Came Home ultimately achieves the same goal.

Playing June 20, 10 AM, at the Newseum.