THE vast gap that often exists between the state’s intentions and its actual efficiency was evident in the third Pakistan International Film Festival, held over the weekend at Karachi’s Frere Hall. Arranged by the Karachi Film Society, the festival was tag-lined ‘Women’s Edition, 2021’ as befits contemporary discourse. A pity, then, that since all the films to be screened date from pre-Covid days, they rather disingenuously had little to offer with regard to either focusing on women beyond the usual, or contributing to the debate on women’s empowerment in its current iteration. Further, somewhat bizarrely, none of the screenings scheduled were held at all, reportedly because of Covid protocols. What did take place were panel and general discussions — lofty speeches comprising mainly rhetoric. Senator Faisal Javed, for example, said in the inaugural speech that the prime minister has approved an entertainment and film policy that is “soon to be launched”. He raised the facts that finances, and the low number of cinema houses, are amongst the hurdles but did not explain any government plan. He pointed out that Pakistan has no dearth of talent; again, though, there were no specifics — such as, theoretically, setting up film departments in major educational institutions, or a specialised film academy focusing on the academic and practical aspects of the discipline.

Yet the matters discussed did contain kernels of hard truths that need reflection. In addition to investment, training, and screening capacity, what the industry needs first, as the senator mentioned, is for it to be treated as precisely this, and therefore be made the recipient of incentives and facilities that are offered to other industry sectors on the state’s priority list. Similarly, rules to ensure royalties were mentioned — a long-time demand of industry professionals, as yet largely unmet. The potential is there, but harnessing and jump-starting it will require a multipronged, cohesive effort. Till the state is prepared to put in this effort, perhaps it would be better if the rhetoric were kept to the minimum.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2021

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