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Meet the Oscar-Winning Filmmakers: Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy--'Saving Face'

By KJ Relth

Editor's Note: Saving Face is nominated for an IDA Documentary Award in the Short category. Here's an interview with filmmakers Daniel Junge and Shameen Obaid Chinoy that we published a week prior to DocuDay.

Synopsis: Every year in Pakistan, at least 100 people are victimized by brutal acid attacks. The majority of these are women, and many more cases go unreported. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred, while many reported assailants - typically a husband or someone close to the victim - are let go with minimal punishment from the state.

Saving Face tells the stories of two acid-attack survivors: Zakia and Rukhsana, their arduous attempts to bring their assailants to justice, and the charitable work of London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who strives to help these women put this horrific act behind them and move on with their lives. Saving Face also highlights the efforts of the women across Pakistani society that are making efforts to help this vexing issue and the changes that occur from their efforts. Directed by Oscar® and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Daniel Junge and Emmy®-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Saving Face is an intimate look inside Pakistani society, illuminating each women's personal journey while showing how reformers are tackling this vexing problem.


International Documentary Association: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Daniel Junge: I got the documentary bug learning from George Stoney at NYU, but worked in the narrative film industry for a number of years before gravitating to London where I started doing documentary work. From there I researched and organized my first feature documentary in my home state of Wyoming.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: I began my career as an investigative print journalist in my hometown, Karachi. I continued to write for local publications in the US and Canada during my undergraduate career at Smith College. During my time at Smith, the tragic events of September 11th took place, and I recognized that journalists who were familiar with the region needed to report out of Afghanistan and Pakistan as they recognized the political and cultural contexts of the two nations. I then chose to transition to film as I felt it was a visceral medium that promoted audience engagement and dialogue.

Zakia (L) and Dr. Mohammad Jawad (R) Saving Face. Photo taken by Asad Faruqi / HBO


IDA: When were you first made aware of the increase in acid burnings in Pakistan?

SOC: Currently, there are over a hundred cases of acid violence reported in Pakistan annually. It is estimated that the real figures are much higher. Although I had always been aware of the fact that acid assaults existed in Pakistan, I had not had the opportunity to meet with survivors or engage with relevant organizations. When Daniel spoke with me about the initial concept behind Saving Face, I was immediately struck by the urgency of this situation, and felt compelled to do my part in not only projecting the issue but also giving due credit to those who were effectively working against it. Saving Face is meant to serve as an educational tool that prompts communities to recognize the prevalence of acid violence and foster communication on this issue.

IDA: How did you find the plastic surgeon that was doing this reconstructive work for women victims?

DJ: I heard Dr. Jawad on BBC Radio discussing his patient Katie Piper, the aspiring model attacked by acid in London. When I heard his name, I called him up out of the blue and asked if he knew about the incidence of acid attacks in South Asia and the Muslim world, to which he replied, "Know about it? I'm working with them in my home country of Pakistan." The adventure began.

IDA: How did your vision change over the course of the filmmaking process?

We always knew Dr. Jawad would be the center of the film and a vehicle to tell the stories of different survivors. But we were really struck by two of the women's stories and their courage in opening up to our cameras. They, in essence, are the heroes of the film and Dr. Jawad became the connective fiber for their stories.

Saving Face: Rukhsana. Photo Credit: Photo taken by Asad Faruqi/ HBO

What were some of the obstacles that you encountered when making this film?

SOC: A vast majority of acid violence cases are found in the Seraiki belt, a cotton-growing region that has some of the highest levels of poverty and lowest levels of education in all of Pakistan. Acid is widely available there as it is used in cotton fields. These factors, coupled with cultures that condone violence against women, have contributed to the underreported nature of acid violence.

As a film crew, we were initially met with skepticism in local communities, and we struggled to battle against the mindset that existed there. However, once we settled into the towns and made connections we did not face any further obstacles.

As a director, I had to train myself to not get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of injustice and violence found in the narratives behind Saving Face. It is one thing to hear about acid violence or read an article about it, and another to spend long periods of time with survivors as they slowly rebuild their lives. Zakia and Rukhsana's determination was contagious; I was incredibly inspired by their stories and am honored to have the opportunity to share their stories with a wider audience.

IDA: As you've screened this film, how have audiences reacted? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reaction?

DJ: We have yet to see it front of a live audience. We raced to qualify the film for the Oscars this year and were not able to attend the qualifying screenings.  We now have a number of global screenings and our HBO broadcast, so we're really looking forward to seeing how audiences react.

IDA: What documentaries or documentary filmmakers have served as inspiration for you?

SOC: I deeply admire James Longley's film Iraq In Fragments. Shot, directed and edited beautifully, this film tells the story of Iraq during the conflict in a unique and awe inspiring manner. It humanizes a conflict by telling an alternative story than the one that we have grown used to; one in which things are more complex than the basic good guy bad guy binary. I was impressed by the honesty and integrity in the film, and was inspired by the treatment of the Iraq war in it. 


Saving Face is screening at DocuDay LA at the Writers Guild of America Theater and at DocuDay NY at the Paley Center for Media as part of IDA's program of 2012 Oscar®-nominated films.