BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Pakistan’s first Oscar winner, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who opened eyes all over the world to the plight of Pakistani women in her film Saving Face, has invited Facets to her country to teach filmmaking to young girls. A $50,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund will make this global connection possible, proving once again the power of cinema.
Obaid-Chinoy dealt tackled the subject of acid attacks in Saving Face and honor killings in A Girl in the River, both winners of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The Karachi activist, journalist, and filmmaker, who was educated in the United States at Smith and Stanford, founded the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan, which will work with Facets.
Milos Stehlik, who founded Facets 41 years ago and created the Chicago Children’s International Film Festival, spoke recently of the grant:
“The MacArthur International Connections Fund is really the only program of its kind that connects Chicago’s arts organizations to the rest of the world. We received a grant from them several years ago to work with indigenous people in Brazil.”
“The young Pakistani girls love to draw and want to work in animation. It is important that they bring self-determination and self-sufficiency into their future. We will be sending a filmmaker over in March, and then their work with be shown at our 2017 Children’s International Film Festival, with one of their teachers and possibly some of the students presenting their works at that time.
“Through this collaboration, children in both Pakistan and Chicago will be expanding their horizons and learning more about diversity and the world around them. There is a universality that connects through films.”
But it was Facets volunteer and benefit chair Armeen Siddiqui-Mirza who played matchmaker between Sharmeen and the Chicago film community:
“I met Sharmeen at a luncheon just after she received her second Oscar. I was interested in her work in part because of my Pakistani heritage but mostly because I studied law with a focus on international human rights. I am always keen to learn about policy changes brought about in response to societal atrocities.
“Sharmeen’s movies had started such a dialogue and addressed issues in Pakistan, which, in the past, were accepted as societal norms, such as acid burnings and honor killings, of which there have been many each year. I was intrigued to see how moviemaking could be such a strong expression, bringing changes in policies and laws.
“I invited Milos to come along to the luncheon to meet Sharmeen. She shared her journey of moviemaking and talked about her foundation helping children in Pakistan. Milos instantly came up with the idea of bringing the unique opportunity of multimedia to educate the children in Pakistan.
“I thought it was a brilliant plan because, unlike a one-time monetary contribution, Milos’s idea would create a direct connection with these children through multimedia and an ongoing exchange between these students and the children Facets serves. It quickly led to a collaboration between Milos and Sharmeen’s team in Pakistan. The results will have far-reaching impact both for the participating students and as a dialogue that will continue to grow social change through filmmaking in the long term.”
Founded in 1983, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival is not only the first such festival and the first to qualify for Academy Award eligibility, but it is also the largest in the country.
The films created by the young Pakistani girls as part of this international exchange will be among the 200-plus films from over 40 countries to be shown at the Festival this year from October 27 to November 5.
Milos explains more about this opportunity:
“The new project came as a serendipitous moment—the way all the best things happen—when we met Sharmeen. But it is a logical extension of our goal in this media-saturated universe to help kids with the challenges they face—fake news, too much time on handheld devices, and even great movies from Pixar and Disney—placing demands on their time.
“We see children’s films as a way to help them think critically about very complex media. We offer a streaming portal with vetted films for different age groups. Good children’s films are another way to comprehend language and grammar. As they transition to making their own movies, they can own their own language.”
Armeen expresses her excitement about the project made possible by the MacArthur Foundation:
“I know that Milos has been extremely flexible and very creative in customizing this program for girls in Pakistan. It truly represents the power of multimedia in bringing together people with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. It is a medium that can open doors for expression and collaboration at a 11,000-mile distance. Given that I was raised in several different countries, many of which had limited opportunities for children to learn and discover through multimedia, I can’t wait to see if Milos will consider expanding it to benefit children in other parts of the world. I look forward to making more introductions.”
To learn more about Facets and its programs, visit www.facets.org.