Deconstructing a city through film -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Deconstructing a city through film

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: “Never a fishing village, Karachi was in fact a fortified trading settlement established in 1729,” said urban planner and architect Arif Hasan at the soft launch of the I Am Karachi film festival held at a local hotel on Saturday.

This was announced as part of the many initiatives of the I Am Karachi movement and the aim is to screen a number of films about Karachi during May and June in different parts of the city.

The programme aims to highlight the multiplicity of identities in Karachi and instead of suppressing and subduing them, celebrate them in an attempt to achieve a more harmonious city.

For Saba Gill, a founding member of the I am Karachi consortium, the vision is to “celebrate the different colours of Karachi, its film-makers, artists, writers, musicians and photographers”. Asking the audience to imagine a community devoid of the humanising effect of art and culture, she said: “There will be no stimulating discourse and no meaningful progress if these voices are stifled.”

Lamenting how the impact of the arts cannot be quantified in society, Ms Gill goes on to say how concerted efforts on part of civil society and the government through effective policy formation can allow more meaningful changes in the increasingly violent city and allow a sense of “hope, pride and ownership in the citizens” to be inculcated.

With a three-fold aim, the movement aims to reclaim the public space in Karachi that is being overrun by increasing violence, bring different elements of civil society together on a joint platform, and also enhance public awareness and advocacy.

Since its inception, the I Am Karachi peace campaign has been involved in a range of projects simultaneously in the city. From theatre shows held at the National Academy of Performing Arts to music programmes promoting the city’s diverse talent pool, the festival will showcase films that encourage dialogue, highlight multiple identities and give shape to the narrative of living in Karachi. Also part of the offering are films by Travelling Film Southasia and vintage Pakistani cinema.

The films will be screened in open spaces as well, and entry is free. Karachi Rising, a film that Arif Hasan collaborated on, was then aired to a riveted audience.

Documenting the unplanned densification of lower income housing in Karachi, the film highlighted the consequences the city may face if unplanned development of the same magnitude continues unchecked. Chronicling the existential threat to agricultural land, the film showed glimpses of the rising population in the city over the past few decades and the concerns it has raised that include dropping groundwater level, fast disappearing mangroves, a marked increase in transport accidents and climate change.

What is most worrisome is the increasing densification of the city that has overall compromised the quality of life for millions living within and on the outskirts of Karachi. For Arif Hasan, such platforms are essential to allow dialogue to flourish and in the long term come up with workable solutions to these increasing problems.

These ventures will allow a more thorough “deconstruction of the city into meaningful components”. Though physical and intellectual spaces within the city are increasingly under threat, all is not lost.

A message of hope prevails as Arif Hasan says how he thinks the identity of Karachi is finally developing, as “I have come across more and more Karachiwallas than I did till a few decades ago. No longer do these people trace their heritage to where their families came from, and simply identify themselves as belonging to Karachi. This is why I am confident that more work on the city will be present in the coming years.”

And I Am Karachi aims to give this very identity a distinct structure.