“My documentaries aim to facilitate change in the lives of those who are in the same circumstances” – Sharmeen Obaid

Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has added yet another great accomplishment to her name by winning the ‘Best Documentary’ award at the 38th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards for ‘A Girl in the River The Price of Forgiveness’.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is a name synonymous with not just women’s rights, but human rights as a whole. She is a Pakistani journalist and documentary filmmaker who won an Academy Award for her documentary Saving Face back in 2012, becoming the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. She has won an Emmy award previously for her documentary Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010 and is also the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

Starting off by asking her the reason behind choosing this field and devoting her life towards filming thought provoking documentaries and building a name of Pakistan across the world, she said: “My interest in documentary filmmaking and narrative based story telling was sparked in 2011, when the tragic events of September 11th shifted the world’s focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Sharmeen was a print journalist at that time, and had the opportunity of growing in Karachi, and then carrying her education in the United States of America. As someone who could successfully understand both worlds, Sharmeen thought that she could play a constructive role in relaying information from the East to the West. She said that a film has a way of bridging differences and providing intuitive situations that may seem foreign or unimaginable in print.

Filming her first film, ‘Terror’s Children’, about Afghan refugee children living in Karachi gave her the experience that there is always more to the story than shown to us by various media channels, or what graces our headlines the next day, and that those stories are the ones that need to be explored in order for us to understand conflict. This response guided her career as a filmmaker, and established a theme of sorts; going after stories that gave voice to those that are not usually given the opportunity to speak for themselves.

When asked upon how she felt when winning the Oscar (that too being a woman) she said that it was an indescribable moment. “It was the stuff that dreams are made of.” She described the joyful moments claiming that it was a testament to her long-held belief that if one works hard and strives for excellence, then the world will appreciate the product and your efforts will be recognized.

“If you don’t like your reflection in the mirror, don’t shoot themessenger. Grow up.Confront your issues. Bring about change.”

When asked about ever imagining to be named amongst 100 most influential women on Time’s Magazine she said that it was a privilege and an honour to be featured on such a prestigious list. She also shared that Angelina Jolie wrote an article about her work for Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012. Sharmeen said that she felt above the moon knowing that her work was being watched by such people who also dared “anyone to watch this film and not be moved to tears and inspired into action.”

Sharmeen shared her aim behind her documentaries, which was to facilitate change in the lives of those who are in the same circumstances as the subject. ‘Saving Face’ was shot over a year, in which lives of acid violence survivors was explored, who were in the pursuit of justice for the crimes committed against them. During this year, she said that they witnessed remarkable developments in their lives, as one of the victims, Zakia, won her court case against her husband, to another victim, Rukhsana, who became the reason behind the passing of historic legislation that increased the punishment awarded to perpetrators of such violence. Sharmeen added that shooting the film was equally invigorating and severe; the realities of acid violence were undeniable, yet the resolve of the survivors was heartening to see.

“I believe that film can be a powerful tool to convey complex and difficult problems in a way that prompts dialogue and empathy. My aim is to produce content that pushes people to look at the world more critically, thereby creating an environment for social change and development.”

SharmeenObaid claimed that there were multiple times when she felt overwhelmed and disheartened by the atrocities while filming ‘Saving Faces’, but found hope in the subject. She was inspired by the stories of survivors and it instilled within her a sense of purpose.

SharmeenObaid said that as an investigative journalist, she felt that it was her duty to address issues that people do not want to discuss. She has always been interested in topics about human rights and women’s issues that many people find controversial. She chose to film subjects that spark difficult conversations and make people uncomfortable.

Asking her about the hindrances she faced across Pakistan and abroad she said that people get surprised when she tells them that being a woman in this field is overwhelmingly an asset in her field more than it is a hindrance. Further stating that she is alive today because of being a woman; believed to be seen as someone weaker, thus less threatening as compared to a male journalist. She also added that being a woman she has the benefit to be able to work in communities that observe strict division based on gender, as she is able to speak with and film women.

Sharmeen said that her ultimate goal was to keep telling stories that do not fit with the current narrative, the stories that often remain untold. She said that her films force viewers to focus on the forgotten and give a voice to the voiceless.

Wrapping it up, she finally had a word for the young female directors, saying that they would have to pay no heed to naysayers, “Don’t wait for an opportunity to open up, instead be proactive. Use whatever resources are available to you and continue to practice and persevere. Whether it is using your cell phone instead of a fancy camera, or submitting a short film to a local festival, do the best with what you have. Spend time learning and perfecting your craft, and don’t let your ego get the best of you.”

“My documentaries aim to facilitate change in the lives of those who are in the same circumstances”