‘War Zone’ shares pilot’s vision

Charles Agar
"Smiling in a War Zone" plays tonight as part of Aspen Filmfest. (Films Transit International Inc.)

Visual artist Simone Aaberg wanted to go to Afghanistan “before the war is over.”She read an article about a young Afghan girl named Faryal who wanted to be a fighter pilot, so Aaberg decided to fly the plane to the girl and give her lessons.Aaberg’s film “Smiling in a War Zone,” about her obsessive journey to Kabul, opens tonight at the Wheeler Opera House as part of the Aspen Filmfest.Aaberg is a visual artist and funded the flight with profits from her gallery and the sale of a series of portraits of women fighter pilots of World War II. She calls the women her “sisters in the sky” and her inspiration.Aaberg flew nearly 4,000 miles in a ’60s-era, canvas-sided, single-engine plane. Her top speed was 84 mph, and she could only go 280 miles on one tank of gas. The plane couldn’t fly higher than the world’s tallest peaks. “So I’ll fly through the valleys,” she said. She called her plane perfect for sneaking into war zones.Flying for Aaberg is a creative act, her way to “reclaim the skies” that she said were “occupied” in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York.After 33 landings, a failed attempt to enter the former Yugoslavia and illegal entries to Iran and Afghanistan, the resilient pilot finds Faryal in Kabul.Aaberg’s is a as much a journey into herself as across continents. Where she at first connects with 16-year-old Faryal, Aaberg later comes up against insurmountable cultural barriers and, in the process, confronts her own identity.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is


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