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Gandhara Film Festival: A ray of light

September 30, 2012

A scene from "Leap of Faith". — Courtesy Photo

The first ever Gandhara Film Festival was hosted at the Pakistan American Culture Center (PACC) over a period of two days.  On September 28, the festival began by making an impeccable impact on the audience through the short film Heal. The work, directed by Mian Adnan Ahmed, has been shown successfully in several other film festivals and was met with positive reviews. 

The novel feature about the festival that was appreciated by the majority of students were the workshops that the event organizers had set up. The workshops were aimed at guiding students and budding film makers in the art of storytelling or broadcast news writing and one that focused on cinematic graphics, which was led by Waleed Umar Thanvi.

Among one of the first observations made upon entering the auditorium was that the atmosphere was very engaging and encouraged interaction and welcomed feedback from the audience. The audience was urged to get to really know the directors and producers whose works they were enjoying and even those whose works they didn’t. In a sense this is progressive because it gives the makers of the film immediate feedback about their work but the side effect was that the audience began to feel the urge that their commentary and narration on what the film was doing or trying to do was needed… during the film…consistently.

Regardless, some of the talent shown in that festival was for many in the audience, a bar to measure one up against. The concepts and social issues that were being shown to us were spectacularly bold and refreshing. In fact, Heal was so appreciated that the audience asked for an encore and despite it being against the schedule, it was screened a second time. The Pakistani film industry can definitely get their hopes up and get to work on roping these aspiring young directors in to giving us a fighting chance in the global cine industry. The festival also brought to light the advancement in computer generated imagery (CGI) - nothing like Avatar though. The much anticipated film 911 am, directed by Faraz Waqar, which was chosen to be screened at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, gave the viewers a new paradigm through which racial profiling is reversed.

The winner of the best feature film award, Karim-Ul-Salam told the story through the life of a young protagonist in the depths of Punjab. In Heer Ranjha this adolescent falls deeply and irrevocably in love with a nectar sweet voice on the radio, just like everyone else who ever tuned in to her show. Men would camp outside her radio station and pledge their undying love to this voice without a face. The film unravels to show the protagonist’s struggles and ambitions to somehow get nearer to the owner of that voice. The concept is interesting and valid as it makes the audience accept that we too form unhealthy alliances and affections for the unattainable fictional characters on TV. The cinematography was excellent and the film in general compelled you to respond to it.

Since religion is such a large part of Pakistani culture it is unsurprising that some of the work be dedicated to it. Sikandar Malick won the award for the best short film of the festival with Divine Nostalgia. This was a remarkably executed short film dedicated to the divine remembrance of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad. The idea is that the remembrance in itself is an art and a discipline.

Especially promising were the short films Story of the Revolution, a work by Nagy Ismael, which showed characters that had actually been involved in the Egyptian Revolution last year. It tells the story of human growth, solidarity, faith, love, compassion and loss. The entire film is narrated in Arabic rhyming couplets. Kingdom of Women which was directed by Amna Ehtesham Khaiashgi was about an entire world that is dominated solely by women. It is a story about a market that has provided some women in Karachi with a livelihood and independence. The bazaar is filmed to the testimony of women who owe it their lives and their children’s education.

All in all, Pakistani film industry is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Despite some films being ludicrous and even some with no tangible storyline, the majority of the talent was innovative and dedicated to the advancement of art. I count that as progress.