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Stories from the Lens of Female Filmmakers

Published 14 Oct, 2023 01:07pm
How a series of documentaries called Stories from Southern Pakistan champions women’s rights.

It is no secret that female filmmakers in Pakistan are underrepresented, underfunded and undervalued. To rectify this, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Films (SOC Films) established Patakha Pictures in 2021, which provides funding and mentorship to emerging female filmmakers in Pakistan.

Following the completion of two funding and mentorship programmes in 2022 (Pakistan Stories and Taiwan Pitch Pakistan Fellowship), Patakha Pictures initiated their third programme Stories from Southern Pakistan in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate General Karachi and Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi. This programme provided aspiring female filmmakers from Sindh and Balochistan with a platform to tell stories through documentaries.

Stories from Southern Pakistan brought on board Noé Mendelle – a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences and Director of the Scottish Documentary Institute, and Jesse Ericka Epstein – a Sundance award-winning documentary filmmaker and a member of the Visual and Media Arts Faculty, Emerson College, to serve as mentors to female filmmakers chosen for the project and conducted virtual workshops twice a month with them.

Patakha Pictures put out the call for applications in November 2022, and after reviewing over 100 applications by Obaid-Chinoy, Mendelle and Epstein, 19 pairs of applicants were selected to make 10 short documentary films; they were chosen based on the creativity, practicality and feasibility of their proposals for their documentaries.

From January to August 2023, the fellows went into the field to conduct research and produce their films, as well as attend virtual seminars led by Mendelle and Epstein. They then spent a week in Karachi finalising the editing of their films. Stories from Southern Pakistan culminated in September 2023 with a closing ceremony in which the trailers for all of the documentaries were presented.

According to Epstein, the end result was 10 “well-made and inspiring” short documentaries, revolving around “the representation of female issues through various types of art.”

Two filmmakers chosen for the grant, Kainat Thebo and Ayesha Abro, chose to highlight the role of women in Sindhi folktales in their documentary Made with Love – which has been selected for screening at The Tasweer Film Festival 2023 and the International Film Festival of South Asia Toronto 2023 (the largest South Asian film festival in North America).

Another project, Nayyar: An Art Story, told Nayyar Jamil’s story, a prominent artist and teacher who turned her house into a studio for female artists and was made by Shalalae Jamil and Ayessha Quraishi. Zehra Nawab and Mariam Paracha profiled Sheema Kermani and her troupe, Tehrik-e-Niswan, and demonstrated how Kermani champions women’s movements through her craft.

Climate change, transgender visibility, culture, human rights, and minority issues were also prominent themes in the films.

“What sets these films apart,” explains Ghinwa Jamali, Project Manager, SOC Films and part of the team spearheading this Patakha Pictures venture, “is that they are made by women who are exposed to these themes first-hand, and so they know exactly the kind of narrative to put out there in order to resonate with more women in the country and beyond.”

According to Epstein and Jamali, what distinguished the 19 fellows was their approach to documentary filmmaking. Instead of adhering to “rigid, formulaic structures and constraints,” they chose to experiment with new, imaginative ways of telling stories, such as re-enactments, borrowing from fiction, and unconventional narrative frameworks, and created films that were both compelling and authentic.

Looking ahead, the filmmakers (and mentors) are keen to bring their documentaries to a wider audience through outreach and awareness efforts, as well as submission to international film festivals and educational institutions. They hope that their films will spark conversations and raise awareness about the vital issues they have brought to light.