Published on The Independent (http://www.aivf.org)

Blogging the London International Documentary Festival: Youth Voices From Pakistan

By pearceP
Created 04/15/2009 - 14:06

With the support (and security apparatus) of the British High Commission, Hazard teamed up last January with Peter Fraser from UK media organization InSight Education to lead 12 media students from four Pakistan universities through an intensive five day documentary workshop in Karachi. Brainstorming around current social issues, the students, divided into four groups, identified the themes that would form the basis of their short films. Between the ins and outs of camera angles, sound and production planning, the students came up with their synopses and research plans and readied themselves to be cut loose. Not entirely, however, as Pakistani filmmakers Babar Sheikh and Maheen Zia came onboard and agreed to mentor the students through production.

Seven weeks later, the UK trainers returned to Karachi for another five day workshop to coach the students through as much of the post process as possible. With previous experience working with students, Eckova Productions was hired to provide facilities and staff to help the crews through a difficult week, which often saw students editing well into the night.

So it was four justifiably proud directors who attended the screening of their films in front of a very engaged audience attending London International Documentary Festival's (LIDF's) Filmmaking for Social Change day at the Royal Society of Arts. The event also included three short films from more established directors, along with a panel discussion on Film, Internet and Advocacy and a debate on UK Media and the War on Terror, but the elegantly dressed Karachi filmmakers did a good job of stealing the show.

Moiz Sultani directed Children Behind Bars, which brings audiences into the “Youthful Offenders Industrial School” and into the lives of these teenagers who are required to cook, clean and garden for their keepers. Physical hardship and lack of support lead in some cases to mental problems, leaving one to wonder what might become of these kids when they hit the streets again.

Bringing another important issue to the forefront, Asha Panjwani’s The Unfortunate State of Pakistan highlights the fact that many Pakistanis are struggling to survive with the massive inflation that has recently hit the country. With parents having to abandon their babies and children, the film strikes a heavy cord.

Capturing a very different mood and style, Escape, directed by Safyah Usmani, is an essay on what Pakistanis do to have fun and escape the pressures of life. With images of amusement park rides, shopping and other forms of frivolity, one can’t help but realize how much their lives resemble our own.

Adeela Farooqi helmed From Birth to Sixty, a historical essay on democracy and freedom in Pakistan. Using Pakistan-founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s inspiring first address to the nation as a soundtrack for black-and-white news images of violence and brutal authority crackdowns, the film offers little subtlety but plenty of punch in its message of a country gone wrong.

Following the screenings, discussion and audience Q&A, I was able to catch the four young directors, obviously thrilled to be in London, for a quick mic huddle:

What do you feel is the most tangible benefit that has come out of this project?

Sultani: For the British High Commission, this is a pilot project, and it worked. Next year they will be much more prepared.

Panjwani: As a first time experience in documentary, we have come away with at least a good understanding. We are not lacking ideas as some people say. We are a very passionate people. We are simply lacking opportunities, so once we have the opportunity we can prove ourselves. And this is an opportunity to change people’s perspectives on Pakistan.

Usmani: For me, I’ve made a lot of contacts, back home as well as here. A number of people have asked me to be a part of their projects, which is a big thing. If you hold on and keep on with it, then obviously it’s going to be a route forward.

Farooqi: It’s given me a lot of experience, to do a film that’s actually for an international audience. Researching the project, I realized I had to change my perspective on it. So it’s taught me a lot about my country, about international perceptions, about how to deal with a subject like this, because this was huge, and trying to say it in a way which can be understood was a huge task.

Do you know what your next film might be?

Panjwani: As a feminist, I feel I would maybe like to focus on the problems that women are facing in our society…

Farooqi: I want to do a film on the pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan, because there was news awhile back saying that 70% of the medicine sold there is either expired or fake. And keeping in mind that 75% of people in Pakistan are not literate enough to read, it’s really amazing, because no one ever talks about it.

Usmani: I want to do something related to my own native place where I’m from, where the people still have the practice of selling their daughters. And they call this tradition, which it’s not actually. So I would like to raise these issues, and the fact that there’s no constitution, no law, to stop these things. Whether the girl is 14 or 40 years old, there’s no concern. I would actually like to make a fictional short, not the typical documentary, to highlight these issues and the solutions.

Sultani: There are numerous untold stories and my mind is full of ideas. I just need a platform, some resources and that’s it.

Well it seems these four will get their Pakistan launch platform, thanks to project partner Geo TV. The Pakistan cable and satellite broadcaster known for its progressive programming and news coverage (which caused it to be temporarily banned and cut off by the government in late 2007 and again recently) has agreed to broadcast the four shorts later this year.

More about the Filmmaking for Social Change program and links here [1].

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