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Aug 24, 2009

Patrick Hazard's Karachi Diary: Day 2

by Abi Weaver

LIDF Director Patrick Hazard is currently in Pakistan working with film students who are making documentaries about their own country as part of our new initiative Pakistani Filmmakers for Social Change. He records the experience here in the second part of his diary.


Day 2

Sitting in the breakfast room I watch birds bouncing on the rocks. Birds of the Indus valley, and I don’t know what any of them are called.

The restoration of the judges again dominates the comment and editorial pages of the morning papers. A genuine hope exists that a separation between the State and the judiciary has been established, and that the days of the judges rubbing-stamping military, or other ‘regimes’, whether by clear decree (the ‘doctrine of necessity’), or by silent approval, is over. As on previous visits I am struck by the lucidity of much of the editorial writing. The directness of its political analysis, in particular the recognition of US policy initiatives in Pakistan. The avoidance of the hysterical or the Olympian.

Peter, Eram Zehra (British High Commission) and I meet in the lobby. We head out into the rich, summer-spiced air. A security guard in a dark blue uniform and black beret steps forward and leads us to the waiting car. There are many different coloured uniforms on display in Karachi. The designation of each, the affiliation, whether to the military or a private security service is not always obvious. This morning there are at least three distinct uniformed groups on the forecourt.

We clamber into the 4×4, the rear-windows screened with black gauze. The security guard sits up front beside the driver. Though the streets are busy we move steadily through the lanes, twisting among the motorbikes (women riding nonchalantly cross-legged and side saddle on the back), and the riotously decorative buses. Inside the car it is cool and calm, 100% normal except for the presence of the gun.

So what abut this security business? Sitting there, naturally, a thought crosses ones mind: And if something were to happen would he fire back, ‘defend’ us? The idea seems absurd. In that case what is the function of the guard? Is it merely a necessary gesture? Is his presence a genuine index of risk? Perhaps it has something to do with insurance?

Before leaving there was much talk about the security situation. The hotel was changed on the advice of the security services. Beyond that I don’t ask or really want to know.

We lose our way. Some phone calls later we drive slowly up a narrow, kerb-less street and stop beside a metal gateway. A door opens in the gate. We climb down. On the other side of the street is a house under construction. The scaffolding is made entirely of slightly distorted, bare wooden poles. On a piece of bare ground nearby is a tented enclave. I ask Eram what it is. She says the builders have set the camp up and live there while they complete the job. Two small boys with close-shaven scalps walk past carrying sacks on their backs. I wonder how old they are. I read, recently, that according to the latest United Nations Population Fund that in Pakistan 60% of children under five are stunted.

We cross a cool, vine-canopied terrace. ‘It’s great to see you here’ Moiz says. Handshakes all around. The group is suddenly shy. I introduce the broad outline for the next five days. I tell them about the plans we have made with the BHC to bring some of them to London for the LIDF (four of them, one from each group). Peter and I are concerned about how those who are not coming to London are going to feel. Until now they have all worked well and harmoniously together, without hint of competition. It’s true that in each group a driving force has arisen, a leader, but it is still an invidious choice. We discuss ways that we can make the rest of them somehow present in London and decide to try and shoot a video diary.

The morning is spent listening to each group present an update on their project. While we have been away they have been shooting material. Some of the groups have shot far more than we anticipated. We try and get a better idea of what their material comprises. They tell us about their problems on the shoot, their successes, and their insights. Although we have been in regular contact with them from London this is the first time we get a clear idea of where things are at.

(To recap. The subject matter of each film has been chosen by the students. The ideas arose out of our first workshop when we spent five days talking with the students about Karachi, of politics, of the things that bothered them, of their frustrations, of their aspirations. We watched films, we played games, and we taught some theory and history of documentary, we went out and ate some wonderful food.)

The rest of the day is spent in a room full of fans and computers and shades drawn to keep out the sun. At first the fans are welcome. When the first power cut of the day occurs we realise how noisy they are.

Then begins the logging and the capturing of material – it is tedious work. By teatime everyone is once again talkative, relaxed, and asking questions. They then stick at the dull task until 6pm when our car returns and we must leave. Some of them arrange with the production house to stay on into the evening.

On the drive back to the hotel we wonder if we will manage to complete these four films before we leave. It seems a tall order. Looking out of the car window I think if I made a film here I would make it about all these empty, unfinished buildings.

Back at the hotel: fresh cakes on the coffee table. I haven’t changed my wristwatch since arriving, in the hope of working on two time zones. Now on London time I watch the afternoon tick away over Primrose Hill.

To read Day 1, click here.

To read day 3, click here.

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