Saving Face is the 2012 Oscar-winning documentary short about the devastating effects of acid violence in Pakistan. It follows two victims, Zakia and Rukhsana as they attempt to bring their assailants to justice and move on with their lives. It also follows the work of plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad who left his London practice to return to Pakistan to help the victims of such attacks. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy discusses her film on the eve of its screening at the New York Indian Film Festival in Lower Manhattan.
At what point did you decide to focus on the subject of brutal acid attacks in Pakistan? Was there a particular incident that sparked your interest in the subject of acid violence?
Co-director, Daniel Junge conceived the original idea behind Saving Face. He was inspired by the work of Dr. Mohammad Jawad and had contacted him after listening to him talk about his work on the radio. Daniel got in touch with me during the initial pre-production stage of the film, and asked me to partner with him. I was immediately drawn to the subject matter, and agreed to join his team.
How did you obtain the access and trust of your central protagonists, Zakia and Rukhsana?
Zakia and Rukhsana's contribution to Saving Face was invaluable. From the onset, they were eager to be a part of the film, as they were keen to use their personal life stories to promote awareness about acid violence. More specifically, they wanted to show the ways in which the emotional and social repercussions of acid violence often outlive and overshadow the physical injuries incurred during an assault. Our crew spent a year shooting Saving Face, and during that time Zakia and Rukhsana graciously invited us into their lives and shared every moment of their journey with us. It was a privilege to work with them; their stories have struck a chord with audiences and have given voice to an otherwise silent community.
How was the story structure shaped over time?
The story structure developed organically; Saving Face took shape based on the developments in Zakia and Rukhsana’s personal battles for justice and medical recovery.
Did you encounter opposition while making the film?
A large part of Saving Face was shot in the Seraiki belt, a region notorious for the highest levels of unemployment and lowest levels of education in all of Pakistan. A vast majority of acid violence cases come from this area. Acid is widely available there as it is a cotton-growing region and acid is used is used in cotton cleaning processes. These factors have collectively contributed to a culture that has come to accept gender inequality, thus allowing acid violence to run rampant. During our initial few weeks of filming, we were met with opposition within the local community as they felt that our film would shame them and paint them in a negative light. Our crew spent many months on the ground building strong trustworthy relationships in order to ensure that everyone felt comfortable about the film. Beyond that initial hurdle, we did not face any further opposition.
What has been the response to the film and has there been any debate that's followed in Pakistan?
The response to the film has been incredible. Saving Face has brought the issue of acid violence to the forefront in Pakistan; Zakia and Rukhsana’s personal struggles have connected with local audiences and have pushed them to become part of the solution. Widespread support for further legislation has been voiced and such developments are given top priority by the media. We have also received an outpouring of emails from people who want to help and contribute their time and resources, and we have connected them with relevant organisations. Most importantly, the film has begun a national conversation about gender rights, domestic violence and our legal system. I hope that this momentum continues and that we continue to see historic developments for women in Pakistan.
What you feel this story reveals about your nation, Pakistan?
Saving Face shows a Pakistan that is accepting its faults, and is actively engaged in trying to rectify them. It highlights the efforts of countless people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice and equality, and it celebrates their successes and underscores the difficulties faced by them. The film is a testament to the fact that Pakistanis are in a position to fix their own country – we just need the will and determination to do so.
Could you talk a little about the role of outreach? Have there been results and/or direct responses from this campaign?
Our outreach program is currently in its final stages; we are finalising the logistics and are garnering support in order to maximise its effectiveness. The campaign will include a national screening tour in which the film will be aired in schools, colleges and villages around Pakistan in addition to a cohesive media awareness campaign. I am really excited to roll out the campaign in the upcoming weeks and hope that it galvanises viewers and motivates them to join hands with us.
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