“The Interpreters” is a documentary that follows the lives of three interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq. Phillip Morris, Malik and Mujtaba represent over 50,000 local interpreters who helped U.S. soldiers on the ground communicate with locals and gather intel.
The people who agreed to be interpreters were deemed traitors and they accepted this job at great risk to themselves, their families and loved ones. The risk only grew once coalition forces had fully left the area by the end of 2014. Conscious of this risk, the U.S. began to offer the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2008. However, it only approves 50 visas per fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30 of the following year.
“It’s a story of two very different cultures that are driven by the same impulses, they’re driven by family, they’re driven by the connection between people who are all trying to get ahead in their lives to help each other,” Simon Taufique said in a phone interview.
Taufique is the composer for the musical score in this documentary. He is also one of the producers for the film along with Sofian Khan, Andrés Caballero and Mark Steele.
Taufique was born in the United Kingdom and moved to the United States with his family, who is from India; he is now based in New York. Taufique was a student at Stony Brook University in 1987 for “barely a semester,” but he remembers his brief time at Stony Brook fondly.
“It was a great sanctuary for learning and for making great connections,” Taufique said of the university.
Taufique graduated from New York University with a Master’s in Music Technology and is an award-winning composer and film producer. He is a founding partner of the film fund, Atomic Features, and he teaches film production and post production at Studio4, a James Franco-founded acting and filmmaking school in NYC.
Taufique used his own experience as an immigrant to figure out the sound of the score for the documentary.“There was a lot of research, but it was also a lot of soul-searching… I emigrated from England but my family is from India, and as immigrants we struggled… I knew how important it was when people helped us and that was very meaningful, so I had to go back to what that felt like when researching the story,” he said.
There are still tens of thousands of interpreters waiting for visas and the number of interpreters actually getting visas is dropping dramatically under the Trump administration, NPR reports. These interpreters took this job under the promise that they would be safe, and now they feel like they are being abandoned. This documentary is important because it shows how there is still a severe ripple effect from this decade-long war.
“These are universal struggles and regardless of how they pray, who they pray to, what food they eat and what they look like, we’re all the same, and the emotions that these people experience are the same emotions that your neighbors here are experiencing and elsewhere, so it’s really just about a universal struggle,” Taufique said.
You can watch or stream “The Interpreters,” which premieres on PBS on Monday, Nov. 11 at 10 p.m.