I want my films to initiate social change: Pakistan’s Oscar winner (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, March 14 (IANS) A proud winner of two Oscars, Pakistan’s celebrated filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy says for her a “bigger accomplishment” is the fact that her films prompt dialogue for social change.

Her latest Academy Award winning movie “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” — on honour killings in Pakistan — which won laurels in the Documentary (Short Subject) category at the prestigious gala last month, turned out to be a wake-up call for the Pakistan government.

As the film made headlines across the globe with its Academy Award nomination, and later win, it was screened for the country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who endorsed his support in helping to end honour killings in the country.

“He asked his team to redraft laws on honour killings to help ensure that perpetrators are punished and victims are protected. The possibility of having new legislation that protects the women of Pakistan reaffirms my belief that this form of storytelling is enough to bring about change,” Obaid-Chinoy told IANS in an interview from Karachi.

The filmmaker believes that films have “a way of revealing the core of an issue that might otherwise be seen as a mere headline or statistic”.

“I want my films to serve as vessels of information that connect audiences, prompt dialogue, and initiate social change. I view my films as active stories that come to life when they are viewed and discussed – the film is often times just the first step in a larger and fruitful conversation.

“I have always maintained that for me, the biggest accomplishment is when my films are used by non-profits and activists to create social awareness and raise funds for marginalised individuals,” said the documentary maker, who first won the Oscar for her 2012 movie “Saving Face” on women acid attack victims.

Obaid-Chinoy pointed out how a number of the refugees featured in her film “Iraq: The Lost Generation” — about Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan — were granted asylum afterwards; and how her film “City of Guilt”, which focussed on clandestine abortions in the Philippines, was picked up by a person who lobbied the government for increased access to contraceptives for women.

Yet, she felt she was “the dark horse” at the Oscars this year.

“I wasn’t expecting to win – but it felt great to win because of the issue we were highlighting.”

While Pakistan is re-establishing its film industry, in that scenario, what does it mean to be bringing back home an Oscar for the second time?

“The Pakistani film industry is beginning to slowly stand on its own two feet. Filmmakers are experimenting with style and form and we are slowly starting to carve out a place for ourselves in the international sphere.

“Bringing home an Oscar is testament to the fact that it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you do good work it will be appreciated worldwide – and there is no lack of talent in Pakistan.”

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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