For the last two ZAB FilmFests, it always comes down to this: Lahore films (basically films by NCA students) competing against Karachi films (films by Szabist students). The third Zab FilmFest was no exception. There were total of 18 films which were screened at the festival (six narrative, six documentaries and six experimental shorts). There were total of 13 categories of awards to be distributed; the ceremony was held on the last day of the festival. As I was also part of the final nominations jury, I had managed to watch almost all of the nominated films. Even so, I was quite disappointed by most of them.
Films from Szabist
The narrative category from Szabist included films like Iblis (directed by Mansoor Mujahid), Dump (directed by Hussain Qaizar) , Ibrat (directed by Ammar Bin Asad) , Vortex Of Walls (diected by Prem Lata), Parchayi (directed by M.Faizan Sheikh).
Most of films suffered from the same problems that has always haunted the Szabist films in the past: the lack of coherent narrative, two dimensional characters. visuals over-powering the narrative and banal depiction of the “essage”or “oral”of the film.The only film that was an exception to this was Vortex Of Walls by Prem Lata. The film is based on the despicable practice in rural Sindh where a girl is married off to the Quran to gain eternal salvation. Even though the film’ stream of narrative was uneven and botchy at times, the effort was definitely there (and after a few more short films, I am sure she will get the hang of it). Some of these films focused too much on their visuals which ended up compromising on their plot and characters, resulting in a beautiful painting without a purpose of existence. Why almost all the film’ plots concentrated on death, murder, drugs or alcohol is anyone’ guess. There is a lot more happening in our society on which we can make films on (as shows by the students of NCA).
The documentary and experimental shorts category included films like Life (directed by M.Nasir Ali) , Enlightenment and The Collector (both directed by Hussain Qaizer). None of the films really contained any spark but were a decent effort nonetheless.
Films from NCA and other universities
Once again, in comparison, NCA films overwhelmed the films from Karachi and resulted in bagging seven of the awards at the ceremony. The narrative film Thag (directed by Ali Hameed) won the award for best film and, deservingly so. The film revolved around a local barber (played elegantly by Tahir) who’ a romantic at heart and wants to marry his lover but lacks the money to do so. In comes a mysterious, sunglasses wearing customer who tips the Barber Rs.100 instead of Rs.7 for the services just because he is such a ‘ice guy’ Even though there were some glitches in sound and visuals but none of that mattered as the narrative was so strong and the characters were so wel- polished that it kept you engaged throughout the film. Ali Hameed might as well be one of the new young shining stars of the future of Pakistani cinema.
The documentary and experimental shorts category was also dominated by NCA student who won both categories. Documentaries included films like Future of the Past (directed by Syed Salam Ahmed), Missing Vultures (directed by Ali Ijaz) and Living Literature (directed by Zubair Malik). Some of them I saw prior in other festivals but were nonetheless engaging, well-researched and executed.
Suspension of Disbelief (directed by Adnan Aktar) won the award for best experimental short which emphasised on rudimentary of dreams, illusion and reality. Brilliantly shot and narrated, it definitely captured the essence of human existence and functionary activities that surround us in our daily life. Frames was also another experimental from NCA which focused on implications of war and conflicts.
There were minor contributions from universities like Indus Valley, Iqra and Karachi University but never really made any impact at the festival. However, an entry from the City School went on to win an award for best animation.
What now for the young filmmakers from Karachi?
Now the question remains; what made the films from NCA better than any from universities in Karachi? Do they have better equipment and are given more time to execute their films? Are they more connected to their culture than we are? Or is it just that they are better rehearsed in the art of film? The answer probably lies in all of them. Lahore and Karachi are two very distinctive cities. Lahore has a massive history and traditions to support its culture whereas Karachi is more of a hybrid city with multiple languages and modes of thought. It is important to understand the nature of Karachi in order to successfully depict it on-screen. Personally, the young filmmakers from Karachi should try and tackle subjects which are less complicated and more within their grasp. A film about ‘hange’in general would turn out to be banal and random whereas a film about a specific type of ‘hange’like consciousness or human conditioning can go a long way.
Jibran Khan is an independent filmmaker who’s "Dast-e-Tanha" was selected for the Three Continental Film Festival. Khan’s also an aspiring writer – his short story "Meditations of a Hari," was published by the Oxford University Press.