Friday, February 6, 2009

7th KaraFilm Festival

Where does one even begin to talk about what the KaraFilm Festival has been through over the last two years? In December 2006, during the 6th KaraFilm Festival, we were musing about the direction the Festival should take after finally getting the State of Pakistan to accept its legitimacy and having celebrated six consecutive years of its existence. We were discussing how to consolidate the gains the Festival had made – and there were many – and how to take the next step towards translating those achievements into a more viable film industry in the country. “How do we ensure that this first step does not remain the only bright light on Pakistan’s film scene,” we wrote in our catalogue, “but feeds into better trained and more thoughtful filmmakers, a more conducive environment for good cinema and, indeed, better films being made?”

So it was ironic that, even as some of the fruits of our endeavours began to bear fruit – cinema attendances began to see an upsurge and at least some of the films made in Pakistan set people talking about a nascent “revival” – the subsequent months threatened the very existence of the Festival itself. Two years of political and social turmoil and ever increasing security challenges forced us, despite our best efforts and to our dismay, to twice postpone the 7th KaraFilm Festival. Like the thousands of people who looked forward to the annual ‘Kara experience’, we were extremely disappointed; more so, because we had put in months and months of hard work preparing for it. For some people, who perhaps did not understand the dynamics of an international film festival and all the behind-the-scenes negotiations that go into putting together an event of this magnitude, the postponements were inexcusable. But if anyone understood how much potential damage this still tender sapling could suffer if it was deprived of the sunlight of an annual airing, it was us, those who had planted it and nurtured it against all the odds.

But as if we did not have enough issues to contend with, in the last few months we have also been hit by the double-whammy of rampant inflation in Pakistan and the global economic downturn, imperiling the Festival’s financial resources. The rising tensions with our neighbour India after the brutal terrorist attacks in Mumbai have also negatively impacted the relationships we had so carefully cultivated over the last six years. Of course, we are not the only ones to suffer in the cultural sphere. Music concerts, theatre performances, filmmaking and fashion shows, all have suffered in the same environment. But perhaps because of the scope and ambitions of the Festival, and perhaps because we had nurtured this space precisely to fight against the decades-long marginalization of cinema in Pakistan, the implications are more far-reaching. In a country where creativity and film is once again under attack from forces of extremism, and precious few institutions of art and culture exist, it is particularly galling to stand by and see all of one’s efforts to establish just such a credible institution endangered.

We have, however, no intention of standing by, and we are certainly not about to give up! We have been immensely heartened by the loyalty of our audiences and the outpouring of support we have received in the last few weeks in particular, from across Pakistan and even abroad. The times may be difficult but it is in times such as these that our determination is fully tested. From what we have seen and heard, there is no reason to lose hope yet.

The 7th KaraFilm Festival is by far the biggest spectacle of films we have yet assembled and we hope you will appreciate the diversity of programming contained within it. Our goal was always to somehow compensate for the Festival’s absence over the last two years. There are over 230 films in our full programme, including over 120 shorts films, over 60 documentaries and some 50 feature films. They cover some 44 countries from around the world, from Australia to Norway, from South Korea to Colombia. Many of these are award-winning films and most have never been seen within Pakistan, but all of them have something unique, thought provoking and well-crafted about them to merit their selection in the Festival. Nobody expects anyone to be able to watch all the films but we hope you will enjoy as many as you possibly can. And if even one of them lingers in your memory after the Festival is over, we will feel our job has been accomplished!

In these difficult economic circumstances, a particular mention must be made of those sponsors whose generosity has helped the Festival to happen – Dawn, Getz Pharma, IGI Financial Services, Box Office, Bose, SMS Security and FM89. We are extremely grateful for their continued support and encouragement, as we are of our partner institutions – the Consulate General of Italy, the Goethe Institut, the Embassy of Sweden, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Nishat Cinema and the Arts Council of Pakistan. We must also extend our deepest gratitude to the Governor of Sindh, the City District Government of Karachi – particularly City Nazim Mustafa Kamal – and the Government of Sindh, whose support and facilitation has been invaluable in more than one respect.

But of course, no amount of thank yous can be enough to those hundreds of individuals who have stepped forward to support the KaraFilm Festival through their donations, without any preconditions. Their vision of a creative Pakistan and belief in the Festival is what gives all of us hope. We hold out no less appreciation for our volunteers who give equally of their precious time and energy so that the Festival may happen. If the Festival proves anything, it is that, with determination and such selfless support, “Yes, we can!”

The 7th KaraFilm Festival was conceived – even as far back as 2007 – as a celebration of colours and light. In dark times, the significance of colours and light becomes all the more poignant. So come enjoy and celebrate with us as we proclaim:


Hasan Zaidi
Festival Director

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pakistan open to Bollywood films

Islamabad, Jan. 24: If Mughal-e-Azam was the last Indian film screened in Pakistani cinemas, Jodhaa Akbar could well be the next.
Pakistan’s parliamentary committee on culture yesterday gave its go-ahead to lift the four-decade ban on Hindi films in the country.
“It should be done in a manner which may promote healthy competition at home and without harming our religious and cultural norms and values,” the standing committee headed by Senator Zafar Iqbal Chaudhry said.
The final decision on lifting the ban imposed after the 1965 war rests with the cabinet. Although President Pervez Musharraf — a self-confessed Rani Mukerji fan — does not have a role, nothing stops him from prodding the government to act fast. The Senate committee asked the government to take all stakeholders into confidence before deciding.
Musharraf had made an exception to allow the release of the all-colour Mughal-e-Azam in 2006 in Pakistani cinemas. Another film, Taj Mahal, was also released but that had a Pakistani actress in the lead role.
Leading film producers and promoters in Pakistan have demanded exhibition of Indian movies to help revive the domestic film industry, which is going through one of its worst recessions. The number of cinemas has shrunk to less than 100 from over 300 in the early 1970s, with most converted into malls, godowns and hospitals.
“The ban has practically become ineffective as these movies are being viewed uncensored in almost every household,” the committee said.
The latest Hindi films are shown on cable television within a week of their release in India, and smuggled DVDs are also freely available. Jab We Met was a big hit with the audiences here, making Kareena Kapoor the hot favourite, and Taare Zameen Par has struck a chord with the kids.
A senior culture ministry official said a summary had been prepared for the Prime Minister, recommending import of Hindi films against export of an equal number of Pakistani films to India.
“Exhibitors, producers and directors may be allowed to enter this trade, which will be advertised widely through the media on first come first serve basis,” the official said. An individual who exports a Pakistani film will be allowed to import an Indian movie within three months on the production of two documents: a certificate from the Indian Censor Board and another from the Exhibitors’ Association saying the film was released in India.
If the government takes a decision within the next few weeks, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar, due for release on February 15, could benefit.
Pakistani producers should try to sell their films in India, the committee said, adding that a market exists for good Punjabi and Urdu films across the border.
While it rejected the local film industry’s argument that lack of official patronage was the sole reason for its sorry state, the committee did call for incentives to help it revive.
“Good and entertaining movies are still doing flourishing business as proved recently by the Urdu film Khuda Kay Liye,” Chaudhry said.
The local film industry must come up with innovative story lines and good subjects and improve its technical expertise to compete with Hindi films if they are allowed, he added