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Pakistani Film Receives Oscar Nomination

Emmy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s latest film Saving Face has won an Oscar nomination in the category "Best Documentary, Short Subject".

Saving Face is the story of two women from Southern Punjab who are victims of acid attack. “It’s a positive story about Pakistan on two accounts: firstly, it portrays how a Pakistani-British doctor comes to treat them and it also discusses, in great depth, the parliament’s decision to pass a bill on acid violence,” Obaid-Chinoy had said when her film was short-listed for nominations in October 2011, according The Express Tribune. The recently passed Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill requires that the perpetrators of acid violence be punished with life in prison.

Saving Face features a British Pakistani doctor; Dr. Muhammad Ali Jawad, a graduate of Karachi's Dow Medical College. He became famous after he performed revolutionary plastic surgery on Katie Piper, a British model who was burned by acid thrown in her face by her ex boyfriend. Dr. Jawad traveled back to Pakistan to help some of the women victims of acid violence. It's the story of his journey to Pakistan, but it's also a story of two Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks and how they dealt with the aftermath of the attacks.

Saving Face was released in the US in November, 2011, and the Oscars will be awarded on February 26, 2012.

Born in 1978 in Karachi, Sharmeen is the first Pakistani to win an Emmy award. She won it for her documentary Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She graduated from Smith College in the United States with a bachelor of arts in economics and government and then went to complete two master's degrees from Stanford University in International Policy Studies and Mass Communications.

Obaid-Chinoy began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 with the production of Terror's Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award. Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world. Her films have been shown on Channel 4, CNN, PBS, and Al-Jazeera English.

Sharmeen has a very ambitious social and educational reform agenda for her country. In addition to her career as a filmmaker, Sharmeen is a TED fellow and a social entrepreneur. She is actively working to bring about an "education revolution" in Pakistan's Sindh province. "There needs to be an overhaul," Obaid-Chinoy recently told Fast Company. "Textbooks are outdated and I've been working with the government on how to encourage critical thinking and move away from rote memorization....It's tough, because the mindset is not there. The teachers are essentially products of the same system. We have to break the culture, which takes a long time."

Sindh's teachers are now spending significant time in professional training with education experts to try and reform the teaching of English, math, and social studies. "We're really making this a movement for education for social change," Obaid-Chinoy told Fast Company.

What Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her fellow social entrepreneurs are doing in Pakistan's unhealthy culture of complaints is truly inspirational. Let's hope others will follow in her footsteps to light candles and not just curse darkness.

Here's an Urdu video clip of Sharmeen's reaction to Oscar nomination:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Inquiry-based Teaching in Pakistan

Light a Candle, Don't Curse Darkness

Social Entrepreneurs Target India and Pakistan

TEDx Karachi Inspires Hope

Pakistan's Child Prodigy

Plastic Surgery at Indus Hospital in Karachi

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Tags: Film, Oscar, Pakistan

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 3, 2012 at 9:48am

Here's a Brown Daily Herald report on an upcoming Pakistani documentary "The Other Half of Tomorrow: Women Changing Pakistan":

Samina Quraeshi is a Renaissance woman in every sense of the phrase. A native of Pakistan, she has worn the hats of author, artist, architect, speaker, academic, photographer, curator — and now filmmaker.

Quraeshi presented clips from her upcoming documentary, "The Other Half of Tomorrow: Women Changing Pakistan," to a rapt audience of roughly 30 students and Rhode Island natives Wednesday night in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The richly detailed and tenderly shot film tells the stories of women in Pakistan trying to make positive changes in their surroundings as entrepreneurs, public health workers and dance instructors, among other jobs.

In an address before the screening, Quraeshi said her motive behind producing the film was to present the human face of a region often vilified in the media.

"I want to use art to introduce complex cultural nuances," she said. "Sensationalist portrayals begin to warp the public's consciousness of the people who live in (Pakistan)."

Soft-spoken and often dryly humorous, Quraeshi also emphasized that understanding a place's history is essential to understanding its culture.

"During the past Bush era, there was a culture of fear on top of a lack of awareness," she told The Herald. "It made people want to get into their houses and watch their TVs, but all the media coverage was doing was propagating stereotypes."

The film preview was part of a national series called "Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet," which aims to introduce American audiences to contemporary Muslim artists. The Providence nonprofit FirstWorks competed fiercely with organizations across the country to host Caravanserai in the city, said Kathleen Pletcher, executive artistic director of FirstWorks. Only four other U.S. nonprofits earned a spot as a stop on the tour.

"There's this idea of a caravanserai as a place where weary travelers along the road stop and rest and share their stories," Pletcher said. "It's a very collective act. And that's what we're hoping to do here — connect art with audience."

The next Caravanserai event is a Feb. 7 screening of "Made in Pakistan," a documentary from Pakistani filmmaker Ayesha Khan. Quraeshi's film is slated to be released in October.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 17, 2012 at 8:00pm

Here's a Guardian piece on Pakistan's film industry:

It claims to not only be the most anticipated film in the history of Pakistan, but to be based on true events. And, for once, the Hollywood-style hyperbole can be excused. The feature-length action thriller called Waar ("to strike" in Urdu) is eagerly awaited, despite being out of tune with the trend for movies packed with singing and dancing.

Waar is coming to cinemas in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and even the restive frontier city of Peshawar later this year. The trailer was viewed more than 500,000 times in the first month when posted on YouTube in January, entering the website's top five videos.

Inspired by real events such as a Muslim extremist assault on a Pakistani police academy in 2009, the film follows a team of anti-terrorist police officers who, with time running out, try to stop a new attack. But the subject matter is not the only attraction, say local critics. With its slick production and use of digital technology, the film, reportedly the country's most expensive ever, is a long way from the staples of local cinema.

"Waar is very, very new," says Sher Ali Khan, film reporter for the Express Tribune newspaper.

In recent years, there has been a series of films dealing with edgy subjects in Pakistan but these were made by, and watched by, the westernised middle classes. "So far the masses haven't accepted these new kind of films. They have catered to the westernised upper middle class. Popular tastes have stayed with the standard styles of plot and production," says Khan. "Waar can be considered the first new wave film to go mainstream."
However, along with Waar, a whole series of similar films is being readied for release in coming months.

One is Kaptaan, a cinematic rendering of the recent life of Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician who currently tops popularity polls in Pakistan. The film will cover Khan's life since retiring from sport 20 years ago and will dramatise his entry into politics as well as his failed marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, who is played by a Pakistan-American actress.

Tareen is producing Tamanna (Desire), a drama exploring class, adultery and, through flashbacks, the heyday of Lollywood. "It is neither action-based nor Bollywood-style. It is much more a pure drama with a narrative telling the story of three individuals," she says.

Sanaa Ahmed, a film journalist in Pakistan, sees the new developments in Pakistan as part of a broader global trend. "There are a lot of new young people with stories to tell who are figuring out ways to tell it," she says. "It's a new wave."

Lashari says Pakistan needs to "recreate" its cinema. "Everyone here has been following Bollywood but the best we can ever come up with is going to be a B grade knock off. We need to create our own identity," he says.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 23, 2012 at 8:45pm

Here's an Indian Express story on Chinoy:

Growing up in a middle-class family in Karachi with five siblings and attending the local grammar school, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy always dreamt big. She convinced her parents to send her to Smith College in Massachusetts and eventually went to Stanford. What she possibly never factored in was an Oscar nomination — Pakistan’s first.

Among a number of greats at Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, Obaid-Chinoy will walk the red carpet in the hope of the golden knight for her documentary, Saving Face.

The 40-minute short, co-directed by US-based Daniel Junge, chronicles the journeys of survivors of acid violence in Pakistan and the reconstructive surgery of their faces done free of cost by UK-based plastic surgeon, Mohammad Jawad, who regularly travels to Pakistan for the same.

“This nomination is a testament to my belief that one’s background is irrelevant; anyone who strives for excellence will receive acknowledgment for their work. I feel proud to be representing Pakistan on such a prestigious stage. The problem with Pakistan has never been a lack of talent or ideas. We just have never had the right resources or infrastructure to project ourselves.”

The documentary was filmed in Pakistan’s Saraiki, an area struggling with unemployment coupled with a dismal literacy rate. It is competing against Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin’s The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement and Rebecca Cammissa and Julie Anderson’s God is the Bigger Elvis.

Saving Face began after Junge heard Jawad on BBC discussing his reconstructive work, and contacted him immediately. “I thought he was a great subject for the film. As for Sharmeen, I was familiar with her work. I’ve never had such a great partner on a film...” says Junge.

Obaid-Chinoy has made 13 documentaries, all dealing with conflict situations.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 2, 2012 at 10:28am

Here's Wall Street Journal on Sharmeen's choice of Pakistani fashion designers at Oscars:

When “Saving Face” was nominated for the 2012 Academy Awards, Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy swore she would choose clothes by Pakistan’s designers for the ceremony. “Our fashion industry features an array of talented and creative designers,” she said. “I am really excited to showcase some of that at the Oscars.”

Holding her Oscar high on Sunday, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first Academy Award winner. She also made good on her promise, wearing creations by a range of Karachi-based women designers to events both on and off the red carpet. (Karachi is the city where she lives and works.)

On stage, the filmmaker wore an elegant Bunto Kazmi-designed shalwar kameez – a traditional outfit of loose-fitting trousers and a long tunic worn in South and Central Asia.

According to Ms. Kazmi, who is known for her elaborate bridal wear, the filmmaker wanted the outfit’s silhouette to be kept “contemporary.” In contrast, the glittering embroidery on the long ivory tunic coat, with cut-in sleeves and a structured collar, was inspired by traditional Persian motifs, while the border incorporated beaten silver and gold.

Gold also featured in Ms. Obaid-Chinoy’s accessories, created by jewelry designer Kiran Aman. The filmmaker’s dangling diamond-and-pearl earrings were set in vintage gold, the same material used for a bespoke cuff, which she wore on her right wrist. The piece was attached by a delicate gold rope to a round Pakistani flag encrusted with white diamonds and green sapphires.

Ms. Aman said she was “honored” to have the filmmaker wear her creations at the Oscars, adding that she had advised her to “hold the Oscar with the right hand” so that the flag would dangle.
At a pre-Oscar luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in L.A., Ms. Obaid-Chinoy showed up in an outfit by a less established name: up-and-coming designer Sania Maskatiya, whose label is a year old. Her hand-embroidered silk shalwar kameez featured a tree of life – signifying growth and success – adorned with multicolored birds and butterflies.

A relative newcomer to Pakistan’s fashion scene, Ms. Maskatiya transforms “the conventional to [the] contemporary” with her designs, which are stocked in Karachi, Dubai and Singapore. She said she was glad that fashion at the Oscars helped to project the country “in a softer light.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 7, 2012 at 10:59pm

Here's Daily Beast article on Saving Face:

Saving Face, which garnered Pakistan’s first ever Oscar, has brought to international attention the practice of acid throwing, a unique form of violence unfamiliar to many across the globe. Acid violence is by no means limited to Pakistan: attacks occur in Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Nepal, Liberia, Afghanistan, Iran, the United Kingdom, and even the United States.

The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) estimates there are approximately 1,500 acid attacks per year globally. Putting together accurate figures on acid violence can be problematic, as acid attacks are thought to be largely underreported, and numbers vary wildly from NGO to NGO. According to ASTI, 80 percent of victims are female, and attackers almost always are male (with the exception of Cambodia, where women attack other women just as often as men do). Victims are attacked for refusing proposals of love, sex or marriage, with assaults often fueled by the “if I can’t have her, no one can” mentality. In other instances attackers throw acid in business or land disputes. In Liberia, acid was used as a weapon during the country’s civil war.
Bangladesh, once known as the “acid-attack capital of the world,” has been the most successful in cracking down on acid violence. Whereas in 2002 Bangladesh saw 500 attacks annually, it now sees about 100 per year. Bangladesh was the first nation to adopt acid-specific legislation, and acid attacks carry a death sentence.

Obaid-Chinoy and Junge are working with ASTI and the Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan on an anti-acid violence outreach campaign that, as Junge says, “involves an education and awareness component.” Obaid-Chinoy has directed two public service announcements to air in Pakistan. “In Pakistan the outreach strategies will target Southern Punjab and Northern Sindh,” says John Morrison, founder and chair of ASTI. “There will be TV, radio and public service broadcasts. Schools, colleges, NGOs, mosques, local MPs, and community associations will be involved.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 18, 2012 at 8:32am

Here's Time Magazine Op Ed on Sharmeen by Angelina Jolie:

Pakistan's first Oscar belongs to a monumental campaign that is changing the legal, social and political fate of survivors of acid-related violence. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's documentary Saving Face brought Pakistan's acid-violence problem to the world stage. Today she is bringing the film's message to towns and villages in Pakistan through an educational-awareness campaign. Her film not only gave her subjects sympathy and understanding but, more important, gave them dignity. The "victims" in Saving Face are some of the strongest, most impressive women you will ever come across. She showed us their scars, and we saw their true beauty.

Obaid-Chinoy, 33, is also shaping the dialogue on Pakistan. Saving Face depicts a Pakistan that is changing — one where ordinary people can stand up and make a difference and where marginalized communities can seek justice. New legislation spearheaded by female parliamentarians will impose stricter sentencing on perpetrators of acid-related violence. This is a huge step forward.

Giving voice to those who cannot be heard, Obaid-Chinoy has made over a dozen award-winning films in more than 10 countries. She celebrates the strength and resilience of those fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds — and winning.

I dare anyone to watch this film and not be moved to tears and inspired into action.,28804,2111975_...

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 30, 2012 at 10:58am

Here's a NY Times blog post on screening of Pakistan's Oscar-winning "Saving Face" documentary in India:

Earlier this month, India and Pakistan concluded foreign secretary-level diplomatic talks that didn’t yield much in the way of rapprochement. Yet on July 23 and 24, the two nations shared a bonhomie typical of their cultural diplomacy, when the Oscar-winning documentary “Saving Face,” filmed in Pakistan, premiered in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Brought to India by the Asia Society, the short film drew packed audiences in both cities, with over 550 people turning up in Delhi and about 475 in Mumbai.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, one of the co-directors, was present after the film’s screening in Mumbai to discuss and answer questions. The interaction, led by the producer and director Kiran Rao of “Dhobi Ghaat” fame, was a spirited one, with the audience asking about unrelated subjects, from filmmaking to terrorism, in Pakistan.

The Mumbai audience was enthusiastic about “Saving Face,” which deals with the difficult subject of female acid attack victims in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The film follows the lives of two such victims, Zakia, 39 and Rukhsana, 23, who simultaneously try to obtain justice (in both cases, the attackers are their husbands) and try to repair their faces.

One of the film’s protagonists is Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a skilled plastic surgeon who leaves a thriving medical practice in London to help acid attack victims. With his irreverent humor and relaxed personality, Dr. Jawad helps lighten some especially traumatic and tense moments in the film. In one scene, for instance, he high-fives Zakia, the incongruity of which elicits chuckles from the audience.

“It was pretty hard hitting,” said Abhi Chaki, a Mumbai resident who saw the film with his wife. “It struck a fine balance between the lighter moments and the more morbid.” Another viewer, Jai Bhatia, said that he “loved the way the film was made, because you see the change that takes place.” Mr. Bhatia was referring to a scene in which a path-breaking bill is passed by Pakistan’s legislators to punish perpetrators of acid attacks.

The film aside, the audience appeared to marvel at the articulate and poised Ms. Obaid-Chinoy. Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said she initially rejected the offer to work on the film, the brainchild of her co-director, Daniel Junge, because she was just about to give birth in Canada. But after she moved to back to Pakistan, she changed her mind.
“We as a nation need to discuss these issues,” she said. “Pakistan does need India. Our generation must broaden the conversation.”

Asked by an audience member if she thought she had a future in Pakistani politics, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, who lives in Karachi, smiled. “Perhaps. I never close that door.”

Born and raised in Pakistan, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, the eldest of five daughters, said she grew up believing she could do anything as well as a man. At 17, she went undercover as a journalist to expose Pakistani children from rich feudal families who had access to guns and consequently terrorized their less privileged peers. In response, filthy graffiti about her was sprawled across neighborhoods in her hometown of Karachi.

She thought her father would tell her to give up journalism there and then, but he surprised her by saying, “If you speak the truth, I will stand by you and so will the world.” This year, Time magazine named Ms. Obaid-Chinoy one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 23, 2013 at 8:07am

Here's a CNN report on acid attack victim in India:

New Delhi (CNN) -- At 17, Sonali Mukherjee had everything going for her. She was a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious young woman, dedicated to excelling in her studies.
She was president of the Student Union, captain of the National Cadet Corps and an honor student set to pursue a PhD in sociology despite her modest family background -- her father used to work as a security guard in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand and her mother was a housewife.
"I had seen my parents struggle for the most basic things, so I strived to achieve something big so that I could give my family a better life," she said.

However, Mukherjee's life changed after three male students from her college started harassing her. She didn't respond to their advances, so they threatened to destroy her.

At first, she wasn't intimidated. During her time in the cadet corps, an organization in all schools and colleges in India aimed at grooming students to join the military, Mukherjee had won several prizes for her shooting skills.
On a hot summer day when Mukherjee was fast asleep on the roof of her house, the three men threw a jug of acid on her. For the first few seconds she was in shock and didn't know what had happened.
"All I could feel was this tremendous amount of pain, it was burning, like someone had thrown me into a fire," she tells CNN 10 years after the 2003 attack.
In the fraction of a second it took for the acid to melt her face and part of her upper chest, Mukherjee lost her ability to see, hear, eat, walk and talk.

Mukherjee, now 27, said she looked and felt like a corpse.
"I had hardly even lived my life, but that one incident changed the entire meaning of my life. It felt like the light had gone out all of a sudden, and darkness had surrounded me on all sides. I had no hope, I didn't know what to do," she says.
Mukherjee's heartbroken grandfather died soon after and her mother fell into depression -- only her father remained resilient.
"I can't tell you how much it hurts me to see my daughter in this state but being the head of the family I couldn't afford to break down," Charan Das Mukherjee says....

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 17, 2013 at 6:30pm

Here's an Al Jazeera story on Pakistani film industry:

The Islamabad premiere of the much anticipated film Waar was a rare night of celerity and glamour in the Pakistani capital.

The red carpet was littered with big-name stars, well-known politicians and fashionable socialites.

Waar – which means "to strike" in Urdu - is the country's first big-budget action film.

It's based on the real-life events following a 2009 attack on a top police academy by the Taliban.

The multi-million-dollar film is one of at least 21 feature-length film releases this year and is widely seen as part of a revival of Pakistan's struggling film-making industry.

Pakistani cinema, known as Lollywood, after the eastern city of Lahore where it was historically based, has steadily declined since the late 1970s.

It was during that time the then military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, launched an Islamisation agenda that introduced a rigid censorship code, all but ending what has been described as the "golden era" of the industry.

Back then more than 200 Pakistani films were made annually, today it is less than one-fifth of that.

Adding to the challenges, from a peak of 700 cinemas operating across the country, that number is now just under 200.

Shaan Shahid, lead actor of Waar, says the film has the potential to dramatically change the industry which has struggled for decades.

"I really feel that with the release of Waar, the Pakistani film industry has arrived. We've received a lot of support making this movie and I think it will inspire young filmmakers to come out and make their own movies," he said.

Waar is one of around two dozen Pakistani film releases this year - including Zinda Bhaag - the country's first entry to the Academy Awards' foreign-language category in 50 years.

Many see this as an encouraging sign that the industry has turned a corner. But one of the main challenges facing Pakistani film-makers is being able to raise enough money to fund their projects.

Film-making is expensive, and with audiences mainly limited to a handful of major cities, it is not always easy to turn a profit.

Iram Praveen Bilal, a Pakistani film-maker, believes it will take at least four to five years before the film industry becomes lucrative to investors.

"In India, if you are investing, you can recoup the money on opening weekend for certain budgets. You can't say that about Pakistan cinema. You need a certain film of a certain budget of a genre that you know that the public will watch."

It is a gamble the makers of Waar are no doubt hoping will pay off with record box-office receipts.


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