theguardian: by Alia Waheed —
Two years ago, the director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. She was 33 at the time, and the film was Saving Face, a documentary short about acid attacks on women in Pakistan. The film followed plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who travelled from Britain to perform reconstructive surgery. In her acceptance speech, Chinoy dedicated the honour to “all the heroes working on the ground in Pakistan” and “all the women in Pakistan who are working for change”.
But though the Pakistani government added their voice to the chorus of praise, there was a feeling among some that Chinoy had found favour overseas by highlighting horrors in her homeland; that her film – despite the sentiments in her speech – was addressed to the wider world, rather than to her compatriots.
They’re an underserved audience, she says. “Pakistan has a very young population and booming media industry, but we’ve stopped producing quality content for children. All our content is imported, and thus our youth grow up with mentors and heroes who are far removed from what they see around them in real life. We brainstormed about a number of mediums, but kept returning to animation because of the imaginative freedom it offers. It was also completely uncharted territory, which made it an exciting challenge.”
The three “braves” are 11-year-old Amna and her best friends, Saadi and Kamil, on the cusp of an adolescence that’s especially poignant in Pakistan, where cultural expectations mean the pathways of girls and boys must diverge. Set in a fictional town, the characters set out to save their community from a menancing villain and his fumbling thugs. But as you’d imagine from the fiction debut of a factual film-maker, an adherence to the authentic is key. All dialogue is in Urdu; even the graffiti looks plausibly peeling. “We have taken special care to ensure that the story remains very local,” she says, “from the way we have designed our characters, to our dialogues and our script. We want children to see characters who look like them and talk like them on the big screen for the first time.”
Animation opened up a freedom to explore thorny issues in a way accessible for the young, she says. But such freedom was, in itself, also a challenge.
“Documentary films are fluid in nature because the film-maker is dependent on reality; the story develops organically and we capture it through the experiences of our subjects. With animation, you work in phases, from the original concept, to the storyboard, then eventually the final material.”
Stylistically, she’s going more for Studio Ghibli than Disney, but she’s at pains not to write off the potential subtexts behind even the most mainstream cartoons. “On the surface your story may be about princesses and mystical creatures, but there’s always room for subtle messages and themes to run in parallel.”
Smuggling messages of female empowerment to the young of Pakistan through cartoons has, in fact, already been done. Burka Avenger is a multi-award-winning animated TV show about a teacher in an Islamabad girls’ school who, when she dons a niqab, transforms into a kick-ass martial arts defender of gender and educational rights. The show, created and directed by musician and social activist Aaron Haroon Rashid manages to ditch the image of the burka as a tool of oppression and revamp it as a masked avenger-style superhero accessory. Time magazine named the character one of the world’s most influential in 2013.
Chinoy sees both productions as canaries down the mine, hopefully to be seen by the next generation of Pakistani film-makers. “We should capitalise on the progress made with both to expand the industry and produce more original animation. We need to put the narrative first, and Burka Avenger has paved the way in this regard. The growth of the animation industry will depend on how content like Three Braves is received. The talent and skill are there, and the passion is palatable. I have no doubt that we can compete with the very best in the world given the time and resources.”
She’s still involved in documentaries; has just completed one, Peacekeepers, about the UN’s all-female, Bangladeshi peacekeeping unit in Haiti. Like Three Braves, it’s a conscious move into more upbeat territory. Not, she stresses, that downbeat themes necessarily make for similiarly toned movies.
“While shooting Saving Face, there were times when I felt disheartened by the atrocities around us but found hope in my subjects. It was important for me to make a show for Pakistanis because news channels remind us constantly about how our system fails. I want to remind people that there are times when our system works or when people, despite the system, work to make a difference. By showing positive stories from some of the darkest places, I want to inspire Pakistanis to own up to their issues and become changemakers in their communities.”
Origional Post here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jun/19/sharmeen-obaid-chinoy-three-braves-pakistan-animation