‘If the door doesn’t open, you haven’t kicked it hard enough’
KARACHI: For a leading filmmaker finding a new generation of real-life heroes strewn across society has turned out to be a real task — the task of her life — and her job to amplify their voices is the only way to keep hope alive for Pakistan.
“We don’t talk to each other; we scream and shout at each other. My job is to amplify the voices of the sane, which have been there but unheard of,” said Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pakistan’s first Academy and Emmy awards winning documentary filmmaker, while delivering a lecture on ‘Bringing voices to the forefront; ordinary people, extraordinary challenges’ at the Aga Khan University’s special lecture series on Thursday.
Ms Chinoy, 36, who won an Academy Award for her documentary Saving Face in 2012 two years after she bagged an Emmy for her documentary Children of the Taliban, was least ambiguous about the cause she had devoted her life to – to give voice to the most marginalised strata of society.
“Their voices are seldom heard, it is our job to get them amplified,” she said.
“We must have hope and we don’t lose hope. The previous generation failed us that’s why we are doing all this and we have to do a lot more for coming generations to have a better future.”
She said she began investigative journalism when she was just 17 and wrote a series of investigative articles, which sometimes put her life in danger. She said her father supported her to the fullest.
“If you speak the truth, I am with you and so is society,” she quoted him as saying.
In a society where women form the greatest chunk of the marginalised people and are among the most suppressed human beings, Ms Chinoy considered that being a woman had been an advantage for her.
“Otherwise,” she said, “…I wouldn’t have done half of my work.”
She said she was the only woman who got herself smuggled out to Darra Adamkhel, Pakistan’s unofficial weapon manufacturing town, for Children of the Taliban, but being a woman didn’t hinder her work.
“In fact, it gave me advantage. I wore clothes with bright colours as I wanted men should know that they were talking to a woman.”
Realising that a dominant majority of her audience in a packed auditorium comprised doctors and medicine students, she used widely known medical jargon to convey her views.
“In our society, we don’t talk about evils and cancers. We have our country to talk to.”
She said she talked for those who had no voice and when she found someone got uncomfortable with her words she felt it was her success.
“When someone gets uncomfortable, it means one has started thinking about it — something on which one never thought before.”
She said all her films meant to do was to create an environment of conversation among people.
She spoke at length about her experiences in conflict zones of Pakistan, Afghanistan, East Timor, Syria etc where she saw human misery.
“I have seen people in very inhuman conditions; I have seen people stateless in their own countries. We must not become Afghanistan. I have realised what war does to societies when people don’t talk to each other.”
She described her Oscar-winning film Saving Face, featuring the then highly ignored acid attacks on women, as a breakthrough, which showed Pakistan could solve its problems on its own and forced people and governments to change their attitudes and basic laws to correct a long-forgotten evil.
She talked about Humaira on whom she had made a documentary, The Dream-catcher. The young woman of a neighbourhood on the fringes of Lyari taught hundreds of children on her own in seven continued shifts.
She then shared how legendary pop singer Madonna helped Humaira.
“When I spoke about Humaira’s effort to Madonna and asked her what she could do for her, Madonna invited her to London and arranged a charity event where thousands of people donated for her school. The school is going to open this August,” she said.
“We talk about heroes. Most of our heroes have died already. It is time for a new generation of heroes — ones who are ordinary people and we have countless such heroes in our midst.”
She showed parts of a few of her new documentaries and episodes of her upcoming TV programme based on promoting real-life heroes.
She asked people to come out of their comfort zones and do their bit for the betterment of society.
She remarked: “If the door doesn’t open, you haven’t kicked the door hard.”