More than 100 people, mostly women, are attacked with acid every year in Pakistan. Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy speaks about her investigation into this wave of violence and her award-winning film, which looks at what is being done to help women recover. “Saving Face” won the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary short. The HBO documentary film debuts March 8, 2012, on the cable channel.
Credits: Camera and Editing by Ariane Wu
Interview by David Ritsher
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Daniel, my co-director, had heard on BBC radio Dr. Mohammad Jawad talking about acid violence.
So he contacted me and told me about the story, and I had heard about acid violence but never really looked into it. And as I started looking into it, I realized something needed to be done.
Pakistan produces empowered women who have full-time jobs, and it can produce women like Rukhsana and Zakia, who are completely isolated and are victims. So it’s a story that needed to be told.
Dr. Mohammad Jawad travels to Pakistan from the U.K. several times a year and operates on these women.
The film starts off with him going to Pakistan to operate on Zakia, who wanted a divorce from her husband … could not get the divorce because her husband believed it was a matter of honor. So when she went to court to do so, he said he’d make an example of her, and right outside the main courtroom, he threw acid on her face.
It was really difficult to get access to these women, because a lot of families would deny the fact that there had been any acid violence.
So we went and contacted a number of nonprofits that were working on the ground, including the Acid Survivors Foundation. We partnered with a man who works as a field worker. He opened up more cases for us and took us into the homes of some of these victims.
As we followed the stories of these two women, we realized that Pakistan is actually trying to deal with this problem.
And towards the end of the film, we find that the bill has passed, the women are trying to move beyond the fact that they have been victims, and so there’s a sense of hope throughout the film.
We will be showing the film in Pakistan … in colleges and schools and in communities as much as we can after its U.S. release on HBO.
The idea is to use this as an educational tool, so what we’ve built is an educational outreach program that accompanies this film. And we are developing a series of public service announcements on radio, on TV and partnering with the Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan to spread the message, especially in communities where men have this mindset that violence against women is OK.
In a country like Pakistan, there are very few investigations that are truly ever done, because it is hard for a foreign crew to come in for months on end to follow a story. When we investigate problems, we see why they’re happening. And most often, stories that come out of Pakistan just state the problem and not why it’s happening, and that “why” is what triggers me to tell these stories.