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Pakistani Director's Look At Acid Attacks Strikes A Hopeful Note

'Saving Face' Documentarians Discuss 'Film Of Hope'i
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February 28, 2012
Directors Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge have just received an Oscar for their short documentary "Saving Face," about the efforts of plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad to help the victims of acid attacks in Pakistan. VOA spoke with the filmmakers and Jawad in Los Angeles just before the awards ceremony.
The directors of the Oscar-winning "Saving Face" discuss what they describe as a "film of hope." (Source: VOA)
When Pakistani film director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy made "Saving Face," she tackled one of the hidden taboos of her society: acid attacks by men on women. Now her film has won an Oscar for best documentary short. RFE/RL’s Heather Maher spoke with Chinoy before the Oscars about why she made the film.

RFE/RL: You were asked by the American filmmaker Daniel Junge to co-direct "Saving Face" after he heard about Doctor Mohammad Jawad on the BBC. What made you say "yes"?

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: Of course being a woman who's grown up in Pakistan and who's had a fairly emancipated lifestyle in Karachi, I wanted to discuss this issue because if Pakistan can produce women like myself and produce women like Zakia and Ruksana, who are the two main characters in my film, then there's definitely some state of schizophrenia going on in the country.

Because here are empowered women, and here are women who are literally treated like cattle. So that's how the genesis of the film was born and what was really important for me to showcase was that this film was about a problem that exists in Pakistan but it was also as much about people coming back to Pakistan, and people within Pakistan, trying to tackle the problem.

RFE/RL: Tell us about Zakia. An article in "The Guardian" newspaper about your film described her face as looking "as if half of it has been rubbed out. What's left is one eye, half a nose and a mouth that can no longer smile."

Chinoy: Zakia wanted to get a divorce from her husband who was an...alcoholic. And when she asked him for a divorce, he said that he wouldn't [give her one]. So she went to court instead. And when [he found out], he told her he would teach her a lesson.

So one day when she was coming out of the courtroom, he threw acid on her face, and said, "Now go ahead and divorce me." He wanted her to spend the rest of her life within the four walls of her home. And he wanted her to regret the decision of divorcing him.

RFE/RL: In the film you didn't just show the horrific result of what happens to these women -- you also show what has been done to combat this kind of violence. There is now a law punishing men who throw acid in a woman's face that carries a stiff prison sentence.

Chinoy: Yes, I thought it was important, and so did [my co-director Daniel Junge], that this was not going to be a story of despair, but this was going to be a story of hope because far too many stories of despair come out of Pakistan.

But while this story is a story of despair, it shows that women who are educated are helping these uneducated women.

Lawyers are fighting their cases; female parliamentarians are hearing their testimony and drafting bills. So there is a lot of work being done to make sure this does not continue in Pakistan.

RFE/RL: Is the new law against acid attacks being enforced and having an effect?

Chinoy: The law is finally being enforced, slowly, but surely. It's going to take a long time for it to be implemented in the manner that it should be implemented, but we believe that the first step has been taken.

At least there exists legislation that now when somebody throws acid on a woman's face he will be sent to jail...there will be punishment for it. Because before, of course, men would throw acid and get away with going to prison for sometimes less than two or three years.

What, of course, we haven't been able to tackle is the fact that men who throw acid on women are usually related to them, and the families find it hard to press charges against them, because there's a lot of shame involved and somehow women are made to believe it's their fault that this has happened.

So now education, outreach programs need to be launched in the areas where this does happen to educate women that they should come forward and prosecute the men who do this, despite the shame that's associated with it.

RFE/RL: Has the film been shown in Pakistan yet?

Chinoy: The film has not been shown in Pakistan yet, but Daniel and I are working constantly to ensure that we can show the film because one of the reasons that we made the film was to educate communities within Pakistan about this horrific act and about how women suffer. We want people to realize that a single act of throwing acid on a woman's face completely ruins her life.

RFE/RL: How have audiences outside of Pakistan who have seen the film reacted? Are they surprised that this sort of thing goes on?

Chinoy: The film was released in select cinemas in the United States and we've had some very favorable responses.

People have, of course, been uncomfortable watching some of the footage because you're looking at horribly maimed women; I mean you're looking at women whose faces are partially melted off.

But most people have come out of the theaters saying that they were hopeful that work was being done to rehabilitate these women and to ensure that no other women in Pakistan have to endure that. And so, of course, our message of hope seems to have resonated with audiences.
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Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 26, 2012 13:56
Here we go: one more obvious case for a necessary and unavoidable humanitarian NATO military intervention - the Pakistani women should be saved from this medieval savagery by all means! And I hope, the gringo liberators of humanity will not be just sitting, talking and watching - like they are doing in the case of Syria right now - how Pakistani women are getting burned!
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 26, 2012 15:48
Dear Onegin,somebody must have thrown acid on your brain,how can you make fun out of the misery of these poor women,shame on you,but you being a komsomol molodets have no shame at all.Otherwise this is a theme no major hollywood studio would care about nor the great Jolly Angel ,being the great humanitarian UN angel she is.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 26, 2012 19:00
Camel, what fun? What are you talking about, man? I'm damn serious and I really hope to hear a strong word on the issue from Hillary Clinton very soon, as lons as this happy woman has never gotten burned by her husband in this despicable manner.
As far as shame is concerned, however, you are damn right: shame does not to seem to correlate well with modernity. Look, for exampel, at all the crimes the gringos are committing in Afghanistan or Iraq, which never prevented them from teaching other on what to do and what not to - so, I just learn to be shameless from them.

by: sophia from: pakistan
February 27, 2012 07:28
its so sad to see this condition of women in our interiors congrats sharmeen . please visit
In Response

by: Aymen Zaheer from: Pakistan
March 05, 2012 08:05
My poem depicts the voice of women survivors of acid attacks, who are facing countless difficulties in all walks of life.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
February 27, 2012 07:46
We know that in Iran, for example, a man who threw acid in the face of a woman sentenced to burning his eyes with acid .Here one can add castration and amputation of hands.Рunishment should be indicated by article of the Criminal Code.
To be fair it should be noted that this problem is not only of the Muslim world.
In Russia, the acid attacks are often..Here, people pour each other with acid not only because of the refusal of sex or unhappy love, but as well they pour political opponents, business enemies, and just when a person in alcoholic intoxication....
Сastration, amputation, burn as a response against the monsters.
This is the way to combat and reduce these kind of crimes against the person...

by: Mohammad Tambra from: New York
February 27, 2012 15:37
Good Job
we need to follow islam and protect Islam female are describeds as very senstive dolls even loud noise can hert them...
these mens are not muslim whom are trying to treat them like cattles..

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