ONE of the topics debated in the recently concluded International Conference on Film and Television in Karachi was on ways to revive the country’s film industry. Opinions are deeply divided on one aspect of the matter in particular: is it advisable to allow films from other countries, particularly India, to be aired here? One camp argues that Indian films take away local productions’ audiences, thus hurting the domestic industry. The other side maintains that such protectionist measures cannot work in a globalised world, and point out that a years-long ban on Indian films on these very grounds failed to have the desired effect of rejuvenation.
What’s missing from this picture, though, is the middle ground of good sense. It is true that audiences will watch whatever appeals to them more, ie quality content, and if they are denied this in the country’s cinema houses, in an increasingly interconnected world they can simply find other avenues. And it should not be forgotten that the absence of legal import of foreign cultural content is one of the reasons behind the country’s large-scale piracy market. Yet it is also true that several countries in danger of being drowned out by fare from larger powerhouses — Canada, for instance — have put in place a network of protectionist laws designed to promote the local industry. But, crucially, these do not include bans; they focus on promoting collaborative work which highlights and raises the standards of the local industry. What Pakistan’s film industry needs is investment and promotion, particularly by the state. The potential is there — films of good standard have been well-received, the competition notwithstanding. Were the state to start injecting funds in subsidising training and providing opportunities to filmmakers, there would be a sudden rise in quality.