Pakistani film makes history
The beginning of 2012 has brought some happiness in a politically volatile country. The cricket fans had something to cheer for when the Pakistani cricket team defeated first-ranked England.
The second reason for our joy is a young Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who’s “Saving Face” has been nominated for a Best Documentary Short Academy Award. Obaid Chinoy is the first Pakistani to make it to the Oscars.
A few months ago, she believed, “I don’t think I am successful until I’m holding an Emmy and an Oscar in my hand.” One down, one to go.
“I am honored that my work has received such acclaim. But more importantly, these recognitions reinforce my belief that you can come from anywhere but if you work hard and strive for excellence, your work will be appreciated at the highest levels. Right now, I am keeping my fingers crossed for the Oscars,” she says.
Obaid Chinoy has produced 16 critically acclaimed films, all of which have been aired for global audiences on networks such as CNN, CBC, PBS, Al Jazeera and HBO.
She is the recipient of the International Emmy Award for her documentary “Pakistan’s Taliban Generation” (2010) and the first non-U.S. citizen to receive the Livingston Award for Best International Reporting under the age of 35 in any medium.
“Saving Face” captures the devastating effects of acid violence on the rural women of Pakistan. It is the story of a doctor returning to Pakistan from the United Kingdom to perform reconstructive surgery on women who have survived acid attacks.
Acid violence is an extreme form of child abuse, which is systemically underreported every year in Pakistan.
Born in Karachi, 34-year-old Obaid Chinoy comes from a middle-class background. She was the first woman in her family to receive a Western education.
She went on a hunger strike to persuade her father to let her go to Smith College, where she graduated with a degree in economics and government. She then went on to complete master’s degrees in international policy studies and communication from Stanford University.
“My parents had four daughters, but they treated all of us like sons. They pushed me to work hard and always stood by me. When I got married, my husband encouraged me to travel the world and strive to tell people’s stories. I feel truly blessed to have such a supportive family and I attribute my success to them,” she says.
Following her favorite childhood hero, Christiane Amanpour, Obaid Chinoy always knew that she would work in the field of journalism.
She started writing for newspapers at age 14. She eventually parted ways with the medium, knowing that the stories she wanted to tell would thrive on the screen.
“The journey from print to filmmaking was seamless because I took my skills from the print world and applied them to the film world. The power of storytelling transcends media, but technical expertise does matter,” she says.
“In my first film, ‘Terror’s Children,’ we shot for a few weeks and sent the footage back to New York only to find out that the sound was missing from our tapes. Everything I have learned about filmmaking has been in the field and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to learn it.”
In a country such as Pakistan, where there is no state patronage for arts, these achievements are no small feat.
Obaid Chinoy says she owes her success to her parents, her high school sweetheart (her husband) and her daughter, Amelia, who is 18 months.
Here’s hoping that Amelia and the 18 million Pakistanis see Obaid Chinoy bring home the first Oscar.
Naila Inayat is a journalist based in Pakistan. She works with The News International’s weekly “The News on Sunday.” www.facebook.com/nailainayat