How filmmaking in Balochistan perseveres despite a lack of resources

Hazara and Baloch filmmakers documented tragic tales with strong messages

Mujtaba Javaid June 15, 2023

Attended by young, aspiring filmmakers, the Documentary Association of Pakistan's event held in Quetta helped display some of the most artistically and socially pertinent documentaries and short films. This was the first time Quetta had the opportunity to showcase to their people their own stories in the form of short films and documentaries. The event took place over the weekend.

A low turnout however pointed to either less publicity or the fact that art lovers are always fewer in number, especially compared to other mainstream entertainment events. The two-day event showcased some fascinating projects such as Wazir Khan by Shayhaq Baloch, Small Time Cinema by Ali Haider (alongside Habib Qasmi who helped him film), Matekulli by Mashal Baloch, Wraan by Shahaan Ahmed Shah, and Land of My ForeFathers by Irfan Noor K.

No resources 

Hazara and Baloch filmmakers documented tragic tales with strong messages, despite limited resources for production. “You will be shocked to know that due to a lack of resources, we have made short films for PKR20,000 only," explained Shayhaq. "But what matters more than money is your skill and the story. If you have the skill, then you will be able to execute it properly. Even a mobile phone camera will help you if the story has a strong message.”

Filmmakers from Balochistan have started to amass global recognition, and their exposure to events in urban centres such as Karachi and Lahore has a key role to play in it. “Some of us have travelled to other cities and worked there," stated Habib, who owns a private production house in Quetta focused on wedding photography and videography. "The exposure taught us that if you are a good filmmaker or storyteller, you can earn your bread and butter through this within your city also.”

Ali, who directed Small Time Cinema, lost his father in a suicide attack on the Hazara community. His story touched upon the many hardships faced within the boundaries of Mariabad or Hazara Town.

Rare stories, rare history

The second day showcased a stunning short film by Irfan, who documented how the ancient archaeology of Balochistan was sold and then recovered, highlighting how no one had an idea of what had happened in those archaeological sites in his province.

“You pick up a stone and you will find a story beneath it in Balochistan,” said Irfan. “There are many limitations for our filmmakers. Equipment is first and then comes society, where you certainly cannot film anything you want. Maybe a taboo subject, maybe a women-oriented story? But I would say that as a good filmmaker, your message in the story should be conveyed in such a way that it doesn’t hurt anyone's sentiments.”

The second day included a panel discussion that focused on what it meant to be a filmmaker in Balochistan. Moderated by Oscar and Emmy Winning documentary maker Haya Fatima Iqbal, the panel featured Adila Haider, Ali Zaidi, Maryum Jamali and Safar Ali Danish.

The discussion began with Adila sharing her experience of how difficult it is for women to go out and film in public places. The hesitation and lack of confidence lead to more hesitation and “lack of confidence." Haya acknowledged Adila’s statement and said, “During all the panel discussions I have attended, usually boys come and introduce themselves as cinematographers while girls introduce themselves as ones who wish to become cinematographers due to self-doubt."

Shedding light on societal hardships, Ali Zaidi said, “Things have changed a lot. There was a time when Hazara people could not move outside their vicinity, but now we have interactions with all ethnicities, as it would be in our childhood. This helps in brainstorming sessions for script writing and filmmaking."

Fighting taboos 

Women making films is still considered taboo in Balochistan. Talking about her personal experience, panellist Maryum recounted, “Other than men staring at you in public places, there's also the disadvantage where you cannot arrange the equipment easily. You do not have immediate friends whose families will allow them to go out with you to film.”

The moderator acknowledged this by sharing her experience in Faisalabad. “We had a team member - Zahid Bhai - (who passed away last year) who used to be with us at outdoor shoots. As we were shooting in the market area of Faisalabad, a man crossed by and asked what we were doing. To this, our team member said that we were engineers and were inspecting the road as Punjab and Sindh usually have female engineers on the field." While the crowd laughed at Haya’s anecdote, it was a glaring commentary on the limitations women face as artists.

Safar, the creator of Parwaaz Dar Shab, recently moved back to Quetta from Karachi, having started his own private production house. “I had to face the same issues but these can be handled too," he said. "I asked my own female family members to play a part because somehow, you have to take a step forward. But, overall, filmmaking is easy in Balochistan as you do not have to pay each and every person who helps you or [grants you] favours during the shoot.”

Safar further stated, “I am currently focusing on weddings to earn my bread and butter, alongside my filmmaking. The production houses from Karachi and Lahore [come] all the way and charge a huge amount just for travelling and accommodation. If my production house can provide those good filming skills and quality, I think both sides can work along easily.”

The event concluded with closing remarks by Haya, who compared filmmakers in Balochistan to those of other provinces. "[People from Karachi] always have this attitude that we are the centre of attraction for everyone which sometimes makes things complicated. There is always some [man] at an event that starts pointing out the language thing, regardless of the fact they keep on listening to Kaifi Khalil’s song and do not understand a single word.”

Haya conveyed to the audience that regardless of the language, one's film or documentary must have subjects that are loud to ensure that Balochistan has a bright future in filmmaking. “I have found Quetta more literate than other places. Usually, in Karachi or Lahore, when a documentary or film is played, [attendees] are found using mobile phones. But here, everyone was concentrating on what was being displayed, which is a positive sign of how serious [people from Quetta] are towards filmmaking.”

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