They arrive in the badlands of Afghanistan in a blaze of colour, a babble of nervous laughter. Dancers. Singers. Mime-artists. Dali, a performing monkey. Ashid, a pixie-faced midget who packs a flick-knife.
A traditional circus troupe, they are led by a self-styled "love-crazy Australian" driving a bright-blue, World War II truck, left behind by the Russians.
Under the bemused supervision of Taliban elders, they hand out lollies to inquisitive local kids, erect a big-top tent, painted in psychedelic colours, and set up a home entertainment centre, brought from Sydney.
Over two days, this company of angels frolic across the makeshift stage, miming, mock-fighting, screening movies, making friends with an audience that has no school, no doctor, no TV, no electricity.
Miraculously, showtime has come to the Tora Bora mountains, the Taliban stronghold where for several years the US Army hunted Osama bin Laden.
"We did it. We did it," George Gittoes shouts crazily, as he poses for a picture, Ashid on one arm, Dali on the other, flanked by stern-looking Talibs. "And, we're still alive."
The Sydney-born artist and movie maker and international agent provocateur for peace, has been planning a trip into the mountains for years.
It is part of his mission to save the regional Pashtun film industry. It is being bombed out of existence by Taliban and other fundamentalists in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
Over the past five years, he has made five Pashto-language docos and dramas, including the funny-scary Miscreants of Taliwood, which is subtitled, George Gittoes's Extreme Tour of Terror Central.
More important, he is on a mission to save lives. He believes in "humour and big hugs", in giving "art and love a chance".
Where decades of firepower have failed, he hopes fun-power will bring peace to a war-torn country.
"Look, I'm trying to prove that one person, one artist with multi-media talents, can go somewhere like Afghanistan and make more difference than the whole, f------ American army."
Gittoes, 62, grew up in Rockdale, went to school in Kogarah and attended Sydney University. He used to be based in a spacious, waterside studio at Bundeena.
Today he is "living out of a suitcase", in a "roadside film unit". Increasingly, he is ill at ease, an innocent abroad, on the mean streets of Sydney. On a recent visit, his "office" – a borrowed Holden Commodore – was soon plastered with parking tickets.
He now lives in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, unmissably in the Yellow House, a loose, artists' co-operative based on a similar venture he, Martin Sharp and other artists opened in Potts Point in the 1970s.
Few, if any, artists have sacrificed so much for their art, commercially and personally, as Gittoes. He has consistently sought out the front-line of conflicts in countries such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Congo, Somalia and Iraq.
He appears to have paid a high price. He returned from Iraq suffering, he believed, from post-traumatic stress disorder. His 33-year marriage broke up. He abandoned his Bundeena studio.
Australian friends, including the Woolloomooloo artist-singer Helen Rose, who has joined the Tora Bora trip, question his "quixotic" expeditions in support of "unachievable" causes. Some talk of an apparent "death wish".
Gittoes concedes they may have a point. Even by his own dare-devil standards, the Tora Bora trip is high-risk. "It's probably the maddest thing I've contemplated." Death, he knows, is an ever-present danger.
He often drives the world's most bombed road, Kabul to Jalalabad. He was recently trapped in a cab, at the mercy of assassins, by a hostile crowd. He and his cast have been stalked by deadly, American Predator drones.
He still mourns the loss of friend Adil Mushtag, a computer whiz killed by a truck bomb driven into the Peshawar film district, near where Gittoes previously lived and worked.
And this month he stared down death, ignoring an Afghan Special Force warning, and an inner voice telling him "this is not a good idea, this could be it", to film a violent demonstration outside the local US base.
It was an illuminating experience. Suddenly, he realised that, at a certain point, when confronted with danger, he "dived into an altered state", fearless, incapable of self-preservation.
"Soon after flicking this inner switch, guys were coming at me with guns cocked. One put his hand over my lens. I kept rolling. "'Nothing they did would stop me – and these are the meanest and most ruthless motherf------ on the planet."
Pressed to explain why he persists in exposing himself to extreme danger, he admits it is not just a desire to make a difference. It is also something more personal.
"If I get too comfortable my work will lose its sting. So, I go out of the comfort zones, into the wilderness, at the worst times. You know you could die the next minute, so you sing and you dance." And try to make friends.
Gittoes tries to minimise risks, work the charm-offensive, disarm potential foes – Taliban and American – by giving them a hug, making them laugh, including them in what he's doing. Even filming.
"Me being an Australian, I don't like seeing people standing round, leaning on their shovels like council workers. So I go over to the Taliban and say, hey, guys, we need some Taliban in this scene. We'll give you a few bucks."
In Jalalabad, "I'm regarded as the funny, crazy Australian guy who loves cricket", who lives in the weird yellow house where, controversially, men and women mix, the Taliban learn to paint.
Though Tora Bora is approached with trepidation, Gittoes has planned ahead. Everyone's papers are in order (his Pakistani actresses were suspected of being Tajik prostitutes). Local Taliban are forewarned.
The night before the show the troupe are intimidated by local thugs. But a typical piece of past big-heartedness by Gittoes pays off, as the village chief supplies men to protect the show.
"He's a Taliban and does not allow film or television. But he said he allowed it [the show] because I'd been spontaneously generous before, when I took one of his elders to the nearest hospital."
One day, Gittoes says, he may return to Sydney. He wants to sell more pictures to fund more foreign adventures. He hopes to convince a sceptical art buyers that he is a genuine Aussie artist, with a rare world vision.
He'd like to find his right-hand man Amir a job in mainstream movies. He's trying to place promising local player Hamatza Hotak in the Australian Cricket Academy.
He wants to chronicle the progress in Australia and "the Beast" America of the anti-greed Occupy movement, with which he was "embedded" in New York last year.
For now, he will stay in Jalalabad, scene of violent anti-American protests this week. An incurable optimist, he hopes some permanent good comes from the Tora Bora experience.
"The kids were great, wide-eyed, brimming with awe and a sense of magic. By the end of they wanted to join our circus and become artists. Much better than joining the Taliban and becoming suicide bombers."
For more information see www.gittoes.com