The US has had a long standing involvement in Pakistan, through the years of the Cold War and then with the war of terror – and yet we know so very little about everyday life and ordinary aspirations of people in that country. With a population of 190 million and growing, its become the 6th largest country in the world, and an extraordinarily youthful one as well, with 67% of this population under 30 years of age! That the war on terror has taken its toll on the region goes without saying – more than 30,000 people have been killed since 9/11 from terrorism and armed conflict, more than 900 civilians have been killed in drone strikes alone, and over a million people have been displaced from their homes. But as the American philosopher Judith Butler points out “numbers are a way to frame the losses of war, but this does not mean that we know whether, when, or how numbers count…. whose lives count, and whose do not… whose lives are grievable and whose are not… who is human and so entitled to human rights and who is not.” Love, War and Other Longings is an invitation to come see beyond the “frames of war” through new Pakistani cinema, to share the drama of other lives, and “know” them as perhaps only art can render possible.
The film festival will screen a riveting selection from contemporary Pakistani cinema. After a thriving film industry was squashed by the military dictatorship of the 1980s, last year -2013 – marked a tentative but noteworthy revival of independent cinema with seven locally produced films released theatrically across the country, three of which are being shown here in this festival. Zibahkhana is a Pakistani horror flick, chosen especially for screening on Halloween night, while Josh (2013) is a social drama centered on a cosmopolitan young woman in Karachi as she reckons with the brutality of rural inequalities. The internationally acclaimed Punjabi comedy Zinda Bhaag (2013) follows three young men trying to get out of Pakistan alive; while in the controversial blockbuster Waar (2013) the Pakistani military intelligence tracks a group plotting terrorist attacks. The novelist Bina Shah’s New York Times article on Pakistani Cinema’s New Wave provides a context to these films, and for a more academic take on Pakistani cinema, do read “From Zinda Laash to Zibahkhana: Violence and Horror in Pakistani Cinema.”
The festival brings together film makers and a diversity of scholars, for Q&As after the films, and for discussions on the changing face of Pakistani cinema, its relationship to Bollywood, and its ability to represent the youth, inequality and strife in Pakistani lives. Mazhar Zaidi, the producer of Zinda Bhaag, was a senior journalist for BBC World for many years and his film Nar Narman about a gay Urdu poet from Pakistan was screened widely in 2007. Meenu Gaur, the co-director and co-writer of Zinda Bhaag, is also an Indian scholar of mass media and political change. Other interlocutors include Iftikhar Dadi, an acclaimed artist, curator and art historian at Cornell, and Ulke Anjaria, professor of English at Brandeis University. Join us for a weekend of some extra-ordinary independent cinema and great conversation!
The Brown-Harvard Pakistani Film Festival is a collaboration of the South Asian Studies Program at Brown University and the South Asia Institute at Harvard University.
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