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Pakistan wins its first Oscar


Daniel Junge & Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Daniel Junge & Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy


The opening part of Pakistan’s first-ever Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face is as direct as it is effective. “I was sleeping when he came in and threw acid on me…it took one second to ruin my life completely,” says one of the women at the centre of the 40-minute film that documents the lives of “Pakistani women… disfigured by violence, scarred for life” after their relatives, suitors or rejected lovers threw acid on their faces.

“This is where they burnt me alive,” another victim shows the camera and the viewers the place where her husband and in-laws doused her in acid and petrol before setting her on fire. “And nobody was punished,” she adds. When a woman Pakistani legislator tells the filmmakers that she and other women in Parliament have proposed a law against acid attacks (later passed unanimously by Parliament in 2011), providing that the attackers could be punished with life imprisonment, one of the victims cannot contain herself. “I suggest there should be death sentence (for the attackers),” she says.

But Saving Face is not all about pain, suffering and revenge. It is essentially about hope. It is “a journey of healing” and a “battle for justice” as its promos promise. After having shown the miserable lives of about half-a-dozen acidattack victims in Alipur and Jatoi tehsils of Muzaffargarh district – in the southern region of Punjab province where acid is widely available for use in cleaning cotton after it is picked from the fields – Saving Face moves to Lahore, where in an operation theatre at a dentistry clinic, Dr Muhammad Jawad fixes the faces of the victims with prosthesis as well as corrective surgeries.

Jawad, a Pakistan-born plastic surgeon who lives and works in Britain and who has won international acclaim for restoring the face of model Kati Piper after she was hurt in an acid attack, has been performing corrective surgeries on victims in his home country much before Daniel Junge, a Denver-based American filmmaker, approached Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to discuss if the two could make a film together on his work.

Karachi-based Obaid-Chinoy, who has more than a dozen documentaries to her credit including Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, which won an International Emmy Award in 2010, recalls how excited she was when Junge invited her to be part of the project. When “my co-director Daniel Junge suggested that we should make a documentary on (Dr Jawad’s work),” she wrote in a newspaper column after Saving Face won the Oscar last month, “I was sold in an instant”.

She explains that she “was determined to show the world the process a woman goes through after this hideous act”. By her own admission, she “had spent no time with survivors, nor had I worked with organisations that support them” but when her team came up with the result of their research on the attacks, she says, “our findings shocked me”.

This was about two years ago. In the intervening period, they had to overcome a series of challenges. A member of the staff that assisted Junge and Obaid-Chinoy says the most important hurdle was to find out the victims and be able to talk to them. “When we started thinking about the project we had little information about the acid attacks but then we did a lot of research and found out how tragically big the phenomenon was and where the victims could be found,” he says, without wanting to be named.

Despite its grim content, Obaid-Chinoy believes the message of the documentary is that of change and hope.

“It is a story of hope with a powerful message for the Pakistani audience. I felt this would be a great way to show how Pakistanis can help other Pakistanis overcome their problems,” she said in the interview. (Source – IndiaToday)

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