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Harvard, Brown Host Pakistani Film Festival

After a recent downturn, the Pakistani film industry is showing signs of renewed life, according to the hosts of the 2015 Harvard-Brown Pakistani Film Festival.

In part to celebrate this positive outlook, several Harvard faculty joined with their Brown University counterparts to host a weekend-long film festival in Harvard’s Northwest Building. The almost 600 attendees hailed from locations ranging from Ireland to Harvard Law School.

The event marked the second iteration of the festival, held at Brown last year. The 2015 program comprised three feature films, documentaries, short films, and other forms of visual art ranging from social comedies to biopics.

Asad Ahmed, an associate professor in Harvard’s Anthropology department, served as co-curator and co-organizer with Brown historian Vazira Zamindar. According to Zamindar, the inspiration for the film festival came from a meeting she and Ahmed had with Pakistani filmmakers a few years ago.

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“There was this burst of energy among professional young filmmakers,” she said. “It seemed that something like Pakistani cinema was emerging … and we wanted to [start] a conversation with [people] interested in thinking about what forms these new films were going to take.”

Until recently, the film industry in Pakistan was in decline, according to organizers and curators of the event.

“It got to the point where there was a physical deconstruction of [movie] theaters,” said Pakistani filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat, whose film “Manto” screened at the festival. In the past seven or eight years, however, Pakistani cinema has seen a revival, he said.

“All of a sudden, [Pakistani cinema] is coming back,” Ahmed said. “Last year, there were maybe just over a dozen Pakistani films produced, and this year 15 or 16 have already been released.”

At the festival, Ahmed and Zamindar brought together academics, activists, and filmmakers to discuss this recent revival and place it in a broader political context. “How should we think about this reemergence? What forms of censorship and regulation are still occurring in Pakistan? These were some of the questions that we had,” Ahmed said.

Khoosat, however, took issue with the term “revival.”

“We are not trying to revive the formula or the mainstream that existed before the temporary death of Pakistani cinema,” he said. “What we are trying to rejuvenate is a cinema-going culture. In terms of the kind of films that are now coming out, they are a completely new language.”

Khoosat said he hopes that, in coming years, Pakistan’s movie-going population will grow more socioeconomically diverse—currently, only the wealthy can afford to go to the movies. “They’ve recreated cinema spaces in Pakistan, but they’ve followed the international patterns of making multiplexes, so it’s not affordable entertainment,” Khoosat said.

The festival itself reflected the socioeconomic tilt of the Pakistani film industry. Mustafa Samdani, the festival coordinator, said he was disappointed by the attendees’ homogeneity.

“It was mostly well-educated professionals and their families,” he said. “I’d been hoping for taxi drivers. I invited the guy who delivered food [for the event], but he never showed up.”

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