The films at the recent South Asian Documentary Film Festival dealt with the travails of those in the border region.

A three-day South Asian Documentary Film Festival at Kashmir University held recently provided a chance to young Kashmiri students to interact with filmmakers from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh as also from Mumbai. However, screening of a film from a Pakistani filmmaker also unravelled the hard reality about how young Kashmiris identify themselves with a place like Afghanistan.

“Search for Freedom”, a documentary by Munizea Jehangir, a young journalist from Pakistan, was enough to stir the Hornet's nest as the audience questioned her as to why she has dealt with the subject “in a one-sided manner”. The filmmaker had focused on the travails of four Afghan women who ostensibly had been victims of Taliban excesses. ]

Much to the surprise of the filmmaker, there were inquisitive youngsters who apparently wanted to see the “good side” of the Taliban as well! They accused Jehangir of appeasing the West by demonising Taliban to show them only as oppressors.

“Through the holes of burqa (veil) you have tried to highlight atrocities committed on women by Taliban but you didn't have courage to show the atrocities committed by Russian and American forces in Afghanistan in your film,” one of the participants remarked.

Bias denied

The film is the filmmaker's thesis project as part of her study in the U.S. Munizea, however, strongly denied the allegations saying that what she had seen was reflected in the film and she had no biases or pre-conceived notions. “Taliban and religion are not part of my film. It is about four women of Afghanistan who have suffered at the hands of different regimes that have ruled the country,” said Munizea, who works for NDTV in Islamabad.

The other film that attracted attention was “Swabhumi – The Promised Land” by Bangladeshi filmmaker Tanvir Mokammel. It touched upon a sensitive topic — the Urdu-speaking community of Bangladesh, who are commonly known as ‘Biharis'. It highlights the problems faced by this community, which is trying to carve out an identity since its migration from erstwhile British India to the then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.

It depicts the role of this community during the period when Bangladesh was carved out and its members' alleged collaboration with Pakistan. “The film was aimed to help get voter identity cards for the community, which will confirm their citizenship in Bangladesh,” said Tanvir.

The highlight of the festival, organised by Educational Multimedia Research Centre of KU and Anhad Institute of Media Studies was the screening of two films by young students of Media Education Research Centre and Media department of Baramulla College.

“War Within” by Azhar Qadri and “Working on the Edge” by MERC students deal with war and soul searching amid life and death and how journalists work in the Kashmir conflict. These films prompted Ashok Kaul, a prominent Bollywood filmmaker, to announce a cash prize of Rs.6000 for them. “It is interesting to interact with Kashmiri youth. They are very inquisitive and think very differently” he said.

Anju Chetri of Nepal whose documentary “War Endangered Widows” was watched keenly said, “Women were worst hit during last ten years of insurgency and State violence in Nepal. More than 10,000 war widows are a result of this violence. We have tried to give voice to the silenced women of Nepal.”

Other documentaries that were screened during the festival included “Bhagmati” by Ashok Koul; “Nusrat Has Left the Building…But When?” by Farjad Nabi; “Waterworks” by Anwar Chowdhury and Moshar of Hossain Jamy; “Global Warming: a Catastrophe in Making”, a film by Shahid Rasool and Shafaqat Habib of EMMRC; “Words in Stone”, by Akila Krishnan and “Santoor”, an EMMRC student production.