Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

A Pakistani Film Festival

October 28, 2014

Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, co-director of South Asian Studies, talks about "Love, War, and Other Longings" a Brown-Harvard Pakistani Film Festival.

  1. What was the motivation behind organizing this film festival?

The US has had a longstanding involvement in Pakistan, through the years of the Cold War and then with the War on Terror – and yet we know so very little about everyday life and ordinary aspirations of people in that country. With a population of 190 million and growing, it is become the sixth-largest country in the world, and an extraordinarily youthful one as well, with 67 percent of this population under 30 years of age! That the War on Terror has taken its toll on the region goes without saying: more than30,000 people have been killed since 9/11 from terrorism and armed conflict, more than 900 civilians have been killed in drone strikes alone, and over a million people have been displaced from their homes. But as the American philosopher Judith Butler points out, “numbers are a way to frame the losses of war, but this does not mean that we know whether, when, or how numbers count…. whose lives count, and whose do not… whose lives are grievable and whose are not… who is human and so entitled to human rights and who is not.” Love, War and Other Longings is an invitation to come see beyond the “frames of war” through new Pakistani cinema, to share the drama of other lives, and “know” them as perhaps only art can render possible. As the writer Bina Shah argued recently in the New York Times, "All of us, in the outside world as well as in Pakistan, need art — film and television, story and song — that closes that gap between representation and reality, instead of prying the two further apart."

          2. What were your criteria in curating the festival?

A few years ago I was doing research in Pakistan, when I ran into my colleague from Harvard, Asad Ahmad, who was working on a small collaborative film project. Conversations that ensued led a common friend and a local fashion designer, Adil Moosajee, to organize a gathering of young filmmakers at the Roadside Cafe in Karachi. The idea of the film festival was born that evening, in the infectious passion and energy of the young film-makers themselves. We met Iram Parveen Bilal that evening as she was working on her film Josh. She's a 20-something woman who had pulled together her film against considerable odds, and her film is included in the festival.

There were others we met that evening -- for instance a group of young guys working on a cricketer's story called Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, whose films we have not included because they were Bollywood-length films. 

So on the one hand, we wanted to showcase what has come to be called new-wave Pakistani cinema, feature films rather than documentaries, but we also wanted to make sure we had time for a lot of conversation after and between the films. All the fantastic films and documentaries that we could NOT include are on our website as well, so do check them out. The festival films have been selected for their diversity -- a horror film to coincide with Halloween, a social drama, a hit comedy that was submitted to the Oscars, and a controversial war flick. The film festival is meant to be an opening, an invitation, in the face of terrible and dark stereotypes in the US media about a place where the US has a visceral presence. So the conversations will be as important, with the film-makers, with artists, journalists and scholars who will bring many different points of view to bear on how we make sense of the lives we see on screen. Come watch at least one of the films! Its a unique opportunity.