Film is often first step towards larger conversation: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Oscar winner says film is often times just the first step towards larger, fruitful conversation

Ians May 21, 2016
Chinoy views her films as active stories that come to life when they are viewed and discussed. PHOTO: FILE

NEW DELHI: A proud winner of two Oscars, celebrated documentary film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said 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, which won laurels in the Documentary ‘Short Subject’ category at the ceremony last month, turned out to be a wake-up call for the Pakistani government.

As the film made headlines across the globe with its nomination, and later win, it was screened for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who threw weight behind the cause against 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,” Chinoy said.

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The Saving Face director 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,” she added. “The film is often times just the first step in a larger and fruitful conversation.”

When asked what an accomplishment is for her, she said, “When my films are used by non-profits and activists to create awareness and raise funds for marginalised individuals.”

She pointed out how a number of the refugees featured in her film Iraq: The Lost Generation 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 for women’s rights.

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Yet, Chinoy felt she was “the dark horse” at the Oscars this year. “I wasn’t expecting to win but it felt great because of the issue we were highlighting.”

While Pakistan is re-establishing its film industry, in that scenario, Chinoy explained what it meant to bring home an Oscar for the second time. “The Pakistani film industry is beginning to slowly stand on its own feet. Film-makers are experimenting with style and form and we are slowly starting to carve out a place for ourselves in the international sphere,” she added. “The Oscar win is testament to the fact that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you do good work it will be appreciated worldwide.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2016.

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