Academics, activists and filmmakers discussed the recent revival in a broader political context
Basking in international stardom with recent releases such as Manto and Moor, Pakistani cinema has finally been revived and is being acknowledged by global audiences.
In recognition of the renewal of our film industry, several Harvard faculty members joined hands with their Brown University counterparts to host a film festival titled the Harvard-Brown Pakistani Film Festival.
The weekend-long festival took place at Harvard with almost 600 attendees who graced the event from various locations ranging from Ireland to Harvard Law School, reports The Harvard Crimson.
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This was the second festival of its kind that took place in the US. The first festival was held at Brown last year. This year it was organised by Asad Ahmed, an associate professor at Harvard’s anthropology department, and Brown historian Vazira Zamindar. The two also served as curators.
The festival showcased three feature films, documentaries, short films, and other forms of visual art ranging from social comedies to biopics.
Zamindar revealed that a meeting with some Pakistani filmmakers a few years ago inspired them to hold this event. “There was this burst of energy among professional young filmmakers,” she said.
“It seemed that something like Pakistani cinema was emerging and we wanted to [start] a conversation with [people] interested in thinking about what forms these new films were going to take,” she added.
Filmmaker Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who was also present at the event to showcase his latest film, affirmed that the film industry was in decline, until recently.
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“It got to the point where there was a physical deconstruction of [movie] theaters,” he said.
“All of a sudden, [Pakistani cinema] is coming back. Last year, there were maybe just over a dozen Pakistani films produced, and this year 15 or 16 have already been released,” said Ahmed.
The recent revival was discussed in the light of a broader political context as the organisers brought together academics, activists, and filmmakers.
“How should we think about this reemergence? What forms of censorship and regulation are still occurring in Pakistan? These were some of the questions that we had,” said Ahmed.
However, Khoosat didn’t agree with the term ‘revival’. “We are not trying to revive the formula or the mainstream that existed before the temporary death of Pakistani cinema,” he said.
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“What we are trying to rejuvenate is a cinema-going culture. In terms of the kind of films that are now coming out, they are a completely new language,” he added.
Since the current entertainment options are only affordable to the upper class, Khoosat hopes that Pakistan’s movie-going audience will diversify socioeconomically in the near future.
“They’ve recreated cinema spaces in Pakistan, but they’ve followed the international patterns of making multiplexes, so it’s not affordable entertainment,” he said.
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Signs of this socioeconomic tilt were evident in the festival itself. Mustafa Samdani, the festival coordinator, wished that the number of attendees didn’t reflect homogeneity. “It was mostly well-educated professionals and their families,” he said.
“I’d been hoping for taxi drivers. I invited the guy who delivered food [for the event], but he never showed up,” he added.