KARACHI: Only a day after it requested the federal information ministry to slap a ban on Ashir Azeem’s Maalik, the central censor watchdog has once again flexed its muscles, this time barring two documentary films from being screened at a film festival in Islamabad.
Had the Central Board of Film Certification not intervened, Among the Believers and Besieged in Quetta would have been screened at the event organised by the Foundation of Arts, Culture and Education on Friday and Saturday (today).
Talking to The Express Tribune, CBFC Chairman Mobasher Hasan said the films show “anti-state elements” and hence violate the Motion Picture Ordinance of 1979. “They also violate the National Action Plan,” he maintained.
Festival organiser Arieb Azhar confirmed that they have received a notification that directs them to not screen the films. “We weren’t given any proper reason, only blanket generalisations that say the movies contain negative elements,” festival director Anum Abbas chimed in.
Although unsure what exactly the objectionable material is in the films, Azhar speculated that the decision could have stemmed from the issues that the documentaries address. “One of the films is about Lal Masjid and the other is about the plight of Quetta’s Hazara community,” he added.
However, he feels there was nothing controversial about them and instead praised them for their excellent reportage and unbiased narratives. “If you see Among the Believers, it is an excellent documentary that shows all sides of the picture but unfortunately, it has been banned because it discusses Maulana Abdul Aziz and Lal Masjid.”
As a last gasp effort, the organisers exercised their right to appeal against the decision. “Since the film-makers are not present here [in Islamabad], we lodged an appeal on their behalf but to no avail,” added Abbas.
In a press release issued on Friday, Among the Believers director Mohammad Ali Naqvi said that it is worrying that the film has been termed unfit for release in Pakistan. “It is a deeply worrying trend. After being screened in over 20 countries and winning 12 awards, we are shocked that Among the Believers has been banned from screening in its own country,” said Naqvi.
Under the knife
Where Among the Believers and Besieged in Quetta were out rightly rejected, multiple excisions were ordered in another film, Doya. “The National College of Arts student who had submitted the documentary refused to cut those particular scenes and instead withdrew his film from the festival,” Abbas said.
With the festival already under way and the appeal turned down, the organisers have already made changes to the roster. Having launched in 2015, this is the second edition of the film festival. Apart from screenings, the event will also feature multiple panel discussions with notable film-makers such as Yasir Jaswal and Jami in attendance.