Documentary films can act as a catalyst for social change provided they cater to local audiences and are disseminated strategically for maximum impact.
This was said by documentary filmmaker and anthropologist Samar Minallah on Monday, while giving a presentation to information ministry representatives from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries.
The presentation was part of a three-day workshop on “Role and relevance of joint productions of documentary films for achieving development objectives” which began on Monday.
Minallah said, “If you want to bring social change through documentaries then you’ll have to be very honest about the content,” she said. “So people are comfortable with showing it…without fear of reprisal.”
Some of Minallah’s own documentaries were made in regional languages to spread awareness about women’s rights without offending people.
She gave the example of a documentary she made on Swara, the custom of forcibly marrying minor girls to resolve feuds.
Minallah later initiated public interest litigation in the Supreme Court against this custom and the documentary was used as evidence in court.
“The case is pending in the Supreme Court but due to the court’s intervention some 70 girls around Pakistan were saved from this custom,” she said.
The workshop is jointly organised by the SAARC information centre and Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Samina Parvez, director general of the information ministry’s external publicity wing, told The Express Tribune the SAARC information centre’s governing board met in November and decided that member states should jointly raise awareness about regional social issues on mass media.
SAARC’s information department will promote young filmmakers by financing their documentaries on regional development objectives and holding film festivals, said Pankaj Pandey, programme manager at the SAARC information centre.
During the discussion following Minallah’s presentation, participants shared their thoughts on ways SAARC countries can collaborate on documentary-making projects to address social issues. Funding of films, participation of filmmakers and modes of dissemination were also discussed.
One participant suggested roadside hotels could be used to make social documentaries more accessible to the public.
Participants will come up with proposals by the end of the three-day workshop which will then be reported to the SAARC secretariat and taken up by the SAARC information centre’s governing board.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2012.