Everyday Af-Pak: Skateistan, Slackistan and more

Filmmakers are trying to alter the negative image of Pakistan and Afghanistan. PHOTO: JAKE SIMKIN

The recent release of documentaries and films about Afghanistan and Pakistan cover a wide array of topics.

Filmmakers are trying to alter the negative image of these countries, or at least showcase a more nuanced angle by showing everyday life in those areas. Here are some films that

Everyday life in troubled countries

Who would have thought there is a skateboarding school in Afghanistan? Produced and directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, this film tells the story of a country’s (and the world’s) first non-profit and co-educational school of this kind, providing youth “with new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction, education, and personal empowerment.”

On its October 29, 2007 cover, Newsweek tagged Pakistan as the “most dangerous place in the world.”

Ayesha Khan, CEO of Indus Valley Productions responded to the cover’s message through a documentary titled “Made in Pakistan”. The word ‘dangerous’ may not be one of the words that come up while watching this documentary.

This film by Mehreen Jabbar was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. It explores what transpires when a Pakistani Hindu boy and his father accidentally cross the border into India at a time of extreme tension between the two countries, and are subsequently held in an Indian jail for five years. Based on a true story, the film touches on religious and political undertones, but is “inherently the story of a family that is separated and the experience of that separation on the young boy and his mother,”noted Jabbar.

This recent film by Hammad Khan portrays the social lives of privileged young adults in Islamabad, the dubbed, ‘city that always sleeps.’ Although these youth’s lives are punctuated by Pakistan’s security situation, it does not define them.

This film shows graphic images and heart-wrenching interviews with Afghans and the impact of the war on their everyday lives.

This documentary directed by Carol Dysinger focuses on the US/Nato exit strategy from the country, but also highlights the strong emotional bond between an Afghan general and a US Army Colonel, subsequently humanising the military operations in Afghanistan.

This documentary shows the tremendous risks four contestants take in an American Idol-style reality competition. The film, which won awards at the Sundance Film Festival last year, showcases the nuances and diversity that exist among Afghans throughout the country – from a female contestant who received death threats for letting her head scarf slip to a young man from the Hazara community who reaches the finals. Afghan Star received much critical acclaim, even garnering praise from Oprah Winfrey who called the film, “a fantastic documentary about a talent competition in a country where you would never dream such a thing is possible.”

This upcoming documentary crosscuts between six people wrestling with a country in turmoil and defiantly standing for change: a cricket star building a new political party, a trucker crossing dangerous territory to feed his family, a supermodel pushing feminism through fashion, a subversive Sufi rocker using music to heal, a female journalist working behind Taliban lines, and an ex-mujahid seeking redemption. By exploring these diverse narratives, the film – a partnership between American and Pakistani filmmakers – aims to contextualise Pakistan.

Changing perceptions

Although many of these films were made with the intention of challenging the polarising perceptions of these countries, did they impact their audience or did people watch, discuss, and forget?

In an interview with Ayesha Khan, executive producer of Made in Pakistan and director of Kashf: The Lifting of the Veil, she talks about the incredible effect that her films have had on the viewers. “The visual image of Pakistan in the United States equates the people to terrorists, but after seeing two films showing a very normal Pakistan, the audience is forced rethink the stereotype,” she said.

These films are also positively affecting charity work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Khan spoke about how they have had an effect on donations for Pakistan. Her company,Indus Valley Productions, partnered with two other organisations in a grassroots campaign called Relief4Pakistan which was for Pakistani flood victims. “We have had strong support from people who have watched the two films for the flood relief effort. For example, Ali Macgraw came to a benefit for Relief4Pakistan and announced that because of Kashf she felt she knows a different Pakistan than that was portrayed in the media,” Khan said.

Orlando von Einsiedel’s film Skateistan: To Live And Skate Kabul has received 400,000 views online in one month. “If you watch normal media reports, it is very easy to just believe there is no hope for the whole country. I hope that with this film, it shows that hope is very much alive in Afghanistan especially among some of the kids highlighted in the movie,” Von Einsiedel said.

Von Einsiedel also talks about the need for creating awareness on projects like Skateistan, the first skateboarding school in Afghanistan. The school gives the youth the ability to learn how to skate, gives them education, and provides a healthy escape for them. “Hopefully the film will raise awareness about the Skateistan project so they will be able to help more kids in the future,” he said.

Khan shared a story of three women who were actively involved in the Obama campaign in Santa Fe, NM. After watching “Kashf”, an apolitical film about Sufism highlighting a very different side of Islam in Pakistan, they raised their concern to the Obama administration about drone attacks in Pakistan.

Many of these film screenings are sold out. The brains behind the films share a strong passion for what they do and hope to make a positive change in perceptions, without being apologetic about the problems their countries face. Khan said, “I think what’s kept us going with both films is the amount of emails we get after every screening,” Khan said. “When you read these emails, you can sense a sort of tangible shift in attitudes.”

“If you can do something that makes people think differently about Afghanistan, that is a positive thing,” Von Einsiedel said.

Aisha Chowdhry
The Express Tribune

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