“A Day in the Life” with filmmaker and writer Yosef Baraki

Yosef Baraki was four when a newspaper published his first artwork, a hand-painted hippo. Unfortunately the painting didn’t survive and a quarter of a century later, Yosef still wonders why his crude depiction of an ungulate captured people’s interest.

He can’t recall that he did it on a whim, hastily etching the animal onto a freshly coated canvas, his index finger splitting the paint as if he was parting the red sea. As his mother, I’ve had the chance to witness Yosef’s artistic development from the beginning and I can attest that from the fleeting moments of triumph to the dark nights of the soul, Yosef’s creativity has always carried the same bursts of impulsivity he channeled while making his hippo.

Today, as a filmmaker, Yosef lets his work be guided by limitations that facilitate this method of spontaneous creation. He has devoted the better part of a decade to exploring contemporary life in his native Afghanistan hoping to familiarize the spectator with its changing political and social landscape. The country and its perpetual instability offer no safeguards. Budgetary restraints and security risks are limitations that force Yosef to employ amateurs instead of actors, work with minimal equipment and turn the war-torn streets of Kabul into his sets. The spontaneity afforded by this guerilla-style filmmaking is fertile ground for someone like Yosef whose most fruit-bearing insights come from being inspired by the words and actions of real-life subjects. You will often see his work populated with natural landscapes, animals and children and it’s no wonder; they rejoice and despair with equal abandon exuding the immediacy of the present moment which reignites the impulsive hand that’s guided Yosef’s artistic journey from the day he fashioned that faithful hippo.

written by Yosef Baraki’s mother Meriam

Yosef Baraki
Here in Caledon there’s no shortage of open air so I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. Whether it’s hiking local trails or clearing brush on our land, there’s always something to do and autumn just makes it that much better!
Yosef Baraki
Recently I came across a disturbed rabbit nest in our yard. This little one and a sibling appeared disoriented so we brought them indoors for a while. Mother rabbits usually visit their young only after sunset so we returned them and monitored the area. Thankfully, the babies were reunited with their mom that same night.
Here I am scouting locations in Panjshir province, located in Northern Afghanistan. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful valley with long winding roads, natural springs and mountains filled with emeralds.
That’s me hidden under the scarf filming a scene in the middle of a busy Kabul market. As you can see, it’s a compact crew: director, soundman, assistant and non-professional actors.
In my free time I like to walk through Kabul’s eclectic markets and observe the craftsmen and business owners who work there. Here is a metal worker who operates a shop that restores ornamental bowls as well as run-of-the-mill houseware.
One of the greatest gifts of making a film is being able to share it with audiences all over the world. Recently I was invited to China for an Asian cooperation conference and to screen my film. Here I am taking questions from an audience in Shanghai.
Of course I had to see the Great Wall and I was perfectly willing to sacrifice a couple of sore leg days for the fantastic views higher up.
Animals make me smile no matter where I find them. Here I am sneaking up on an unsuspecting cat napping in Istanbul.


Which ‘hood’ are you from?

I live in Caledon, although I grew up in Brampton. Because it’s more of a rural area there’s always physical labour to keep you occupied no matter the season. I like that and in many ways it helps me get away from the arduous months spent filming abroad or having my face buried in a screen for the better part of the day while editing.

What do you do?

I am a filmmaker and a writer.

What are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of making a film about alienation in Afghanistan’s middle-class. After so many years of war, the country has finally found stability and with it more prosperity. I am interested in how the newly established middle-class balances progress and tradition, wealth and poverty, and violence and peace.

Where can we find your work?

My new film I Do My Work screened at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. It’s a documentary about students at a music academy preparing to put on a concert to commemorate Afghanistan’s independence. The screenings are happening online because of COVID so you can enjoy the whole program from the comfort of your home. I encourage everyone to check it out.



About Joel Levy 2602 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography