A Director Documents Pakistan’s Social Problems

Harriet Hu

The Oscar-winning short film Saving Face tells the story of two Pakistani women who suffered acid attacks. It’s the latest in a series of hard-hitting documentaries about the Islamic world directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
Obaid-Chinoy, who started her journalistic career at The New York Times in 2002, has subsequently directed over 12 documentary films. She was educated in the States but raised in Karachi, and it was when she turned her attention to her homeland that she began to generate widespread acclaim.
As well as her Oscar, her many accolades include being the only non-American to ever receive the Livingston Award for Pakistan: Children of the Taliban, for which she also won an Emmy.

Obaid-Chinoy’s previous documentary had her travelling around Pakistan’s war torn tribal region portraying the rising influence of a newly formed Pakistani branch of the Taliban. She achieved this through interviews and footage of the young people of the regions, who she believes to be the hardest hit by the on-going conflict, and who are targeted by the Taliban as potential recruits.

The documentary that she created was insightful and shocking as well as profoundly moving, as many of the children she speaks to and befriended are capable of elucidating the tragedy of the conflict in very concrete terms. The courage required to shoot this documentary is evident in several scenes, such as when mortar fire caused Obaid-Chinoy and her crew to run from the scene of an interview.

The film also included a scene which encapsulated the deep divisions within Pakistani society over the rise of the Taliban. Obaid-Chinoy speaks to two best friends from the same village, one who is pro-Taliban and the other who blames the militia for the country’s problems. Asking the question of what would happen if they had to fight one another, both boys claimed that they would have to strength to kill their friend for their cause, revealing the extent to which the Taliban has divided this land and its people.
Her new documentary, Saving Faces, is about female victims of acid attacks in Pakistan and premiered in the UK at London’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival during 2012. This documentary depicted the work of plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad in treating the disfigurements of victims of acid attacks, many of whom have been targeted by family members.
The documentary has led to a renewed focus on this crime in Pakistan, and in general the violence against women. Obaid-Chinoy has been celebrated for her bravery in making this film and for being the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. She will receive a Civil Award from Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilan in recognition of her work.
Obaid-Chinoy also fronts The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), an NGO which seeks to protect and defend the country’s cultural heritage. CAP places particular focus upon traditional oral storytelling, as a vehicle for preserving cultural identity. The charity orchestrates a huge variety of different activities including exhibitions, concerts and an exchange program with Indian school children.

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