Pakistani Documentaries that Channel 4 Should Learn From

Yesterday was an absolutely phenomenal day at the British Museum in London. It was organized by the London International Documentary Film Festival in association with the Pakistan High Commission. The two main sessions, called Filmmaking for Social Change, focused on short films made by students from Pakistan. My immediate reaction was, ‘Wow, I am impressed. Why didn’t I make these?’

I salute these young film students for making documentaries that were emotionally evocative and represented the average Pakistani’s point of view. After having watched enough crap documentaries on the (supposedly, hopeless) state of Pakistan, commissioned by the likes of Channel 4, and CNN, where they make you believe that everyone in your household, including your 80 year-old grandmother and her pet parrot, have been radicalised and are on the verge of blowing themselves up and taking you down with them, these films felt like a breath of fresh air.

They all had an overwhelming sense of optimism and showed the inherent resilience that most Pakistanis often pride themselves on. These films boldly challenged existing perceptions of Pakistan in the media and confidently showed off a new image of our society- and no, not the image that focuses on raves, crazy parties, bare mid-riffs and the oh-so-provocative fashion shows that show the mullahs off. Nopes. Not that.

They showed the hope that an average Pakistani held as he moved back to Pakistan from America; the fire and energy of a famous painter from the red light area of Lahore as he fights for the integrity of his work; the gratitude a bus driver felt for being alive even as he watched his bus being burned down by the mob; and the carefree and all-embracing attitude of students at a local missionary school in Karachi- an image quite contrary to that of schools with children rocking back and forth and bent over religious books reciting phrases full of hate. These documentaries showed me the Pakistan I knew and grew up in. A country that is obviously altered, but inherently the same.

The films were a far cry from the sensationalist content that appeals to the western audience and media. They weren’t screaming ‘terrorism- run for your lives!’. They were not talking about the new generation of Talibanized youth that is threatening western values and progress; they were not showing a decrepit society; and a few were audacious enough to say that some Madrassahs actually serve a social purpose and are not the evil institutions they are made out to be by trendy opinion writers.

Yet, despite the lack of sensationalism, these films appealed to everyone. The auditorium was mostly packed. There was genuine appreciation for the content. The loud applauding was a testament to the fact that these films were successful.

What got me grooving was the fact that there was a kind of bravado in how these films ignored the many stereotypes that the western media has created about Pakistan. The films were not apologetic in their approach to issues. They were not defensive about the country’s maligned image. They just voiced what is the complex reality of a progressing Pakistan.

My words of advice to Channel 4 and the likes (as well as all Pakistani broadcasters)– take a lesson from these kids and be honest in your reporting. Don’t just sell bullshit to people, because you think it sells. People aren’t as stupid as you take them to be.

One thought on “Pakistani Documentaries that Channel 4 Should Learn From”

  1. Hi Sheherzad

    Nice to discover your site and even nicer to have met you at LIDF. Hope some of these films get a much wider audience as they show the side of Pakistan that is rarely reported in the UK, the lives of ‘ordinary’ people, told with great insight and humanity.

    I’m also enjoying reading your views and observations even if I don’t agree with all of them !!! LOL !!

    Best wishes and good luck with the new project….

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