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Our Man in Pakistan: On Guard


by Stephen Becker 21 Jul 2009

Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas. He’ll be checking in from Pakistan, where he’s participating in the American Documentary Showcase. After the high and excitement of last night’s dinner and meeting,  we thought nothing could top that. Then we headed out for the Interactive Resource Center. All along, we […]

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guards

Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas. He’ll be checking in from Pakistan, where he’s participating in the American Documentary Showcase.

After the high and excitement of last night’s dinner and meeting,  we thought nothing could top that. Then we headed out for the Interactive Resource Center. All along, we heard very few students or others wanting to talk about politics, as if there was an understanding of what we and they thought. With the Taliban ruining their country, they are at the crossroads of the battle between the past and the present. There was more talk about how to prepare for a documentary than the elephant in the room.

But not at the Interactive Resource Center. They train people on how to make videos about what is happening not just in the cities, but in the small towns. They give voice through documentary to ordinary people. It made me think of the cable-access model in the U.S., putting cameras in the hands of people to get the real story out. Only they had good cameras (and some not-so-good ones). We snipped videos about pollution, about how people feel about the Taliban and a touching one about a girl who is passing for a boy to get work. While having our customary tea with our hosts, we were blown away by their programs. They made up some bumper stickers that said in Arabic, “Throw out the Taliban and save our country.” Another one said, “Throw out the Taliban and save our families.” (I have a few extras I brought back if you want to e-mail me.)

We also asked if they had women shooting video, and they said sure, women work in all areas there. So perhaps Penjab University, which we were at yesterday, was just one version of the story. They have a smaller post facility than the other schools we visited, but they had something important: a DVD duplicator to get the word out. Very smart. They also have a partnership with the BBC to help them make better work. The Pakistani students send a DVD to the teacher, who calls the student with a critique. They also have housing there so people coming for training can stay. We were thrilled – this was the media we were hoping to see.

We showed Autism the Musical, which was the last screening of the week for us (by now, I can act out most of the scenes). We had our usual Q&A about Autism with similar questions about getting the film out, scripting, how long it took to edit, how much footage was shot (200 hours).

Then we got to see their films. Most were group projects, and you could see the watering down of passion by committee (a universal phenomenon). Unfortunately, many of the films were in Urdu, with only sporadic English, so we couldn’t really tell what was happening. Perhaps we were tougher in these critiques, because if these folks get it right, their films will play all over and it will make a difference on how we understand what is going on in Pakistan. We could see that the teacher was both happy that we were supporting a lot of the tech stuff he was talking about but cringing when we talked about having more stories and less voice over. I got the sense they were just doing what they were told. Research, write a script and find images to place over the words. And while there is a place for these kinds of films, following people would make them much stronger. For example, one film talked about how Pakistan still has a feudal system in which some people are slaves working inhumane hours in poor conditions. The filmmakers had the facts and figures, but if they could follow someone, they could get these film shown in their country and ours. Recently, Pakistan went from there state-owned TV stations to more than 70, so there is opportunity for different kinds of documentaries on TV here.

certificates

The class took the critique very well and seemed really inspired. Before we could leave, we had to fill out and hand out certificates (above) to everyone, a drill we have gotten used to. I hope to see work from these folks soon.

We felt like we ended the week with the workshop that might do the most good.

Next on the schedule was a little sightseeing. In getting to these spots, we saw some of the poorer parts of Lahore. Hordes of people walked in the middle of the street, making traffic difficult. And traffic there is insane. I know you can say that about many places in the world, but this is the worst. Staying in your lane is voluntary, so everyone weaves for no reason. Mix that with donkeys pulling gigantic payloads, and you’ve got quite a mess.

lahore

Basically, we went to the Lahore Fort (above), which was used by many kings. There was lots of mirrored tile and elements of luxury, including a predecessor to the hot tub. The fort has been in a bit of decay, and the U.S. and others are helping to restore it.

During the week, everywhere we went we had a police escort, usually four guys wearing black and carrying AK-47’s in a jeep behind us:

guards21

While walking through the fort, they paved the way for us, making sure there was nobody who could do us harm. I knew that security was essential. But I felt really bad about these guards moving Pakistani’s out of the way in one of their historical sites. We were constantly in a bubble of protection, but here it was more obvious. It makes me think about the bubble we live in at home. Sure, there are no armed guards around, but our military is clearing a safe spot for us.

Later, we went to the largest mosque in Lahore (below), which was magnificent to see and experience. As we were shown around there, the sun went down and everything looked iconic.

fort1

After dinner, we did a bit of very late night shopping at 11:30. At this point, we were too exhausted to buy much.

Bart

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