Blog Post

In recent years my dream has become to make movies at some point in the

distant future, though to be honest, in my heart of hearts, I feared it to be an

idealistic vision rather impossible to fulfill. The problem, of course, lay in my lack

of familiarity with the gradual process and collaborations that produce a

film—how on earth should one begin a project and what resources would one

need? My time at SOC films gave me exposure to that process, opening it up for

me so I can finally think of film making as a series of executable steps rather than

as an impractical goal.

From the very beginning of the internship, I found myself playing a role in the

making of a feature film from its preliminary stages. Following Sharmeen’s

instructions, I plunged into research on the movie’s topic, drawing up timelines

and lists of people to interview, and organizing photographs, newspaper

clippings and footage from decades into the past so they could be delivered for

the next step to the editor. The hard work culminated in an exhilarating trip with

the film crew on which I could observe another step of the process: shooting the

interview. As I helped the meticulous DOP’s shift around tripods and fix lighting,

I became privy to the many considerations that go into framing and sound

quality. And in watching Sharmeen carry out the interview, I understood the skill

required to engage a person and keep them on the right track in their stories for

a documentary movie.

I watched many more interviews, this time transcribing them for the editor’s

ease—which I now know is actually a necessary part of the documentary

film making process—and got to dip a hand into a bit of editing myself, to make

the subtitles for another movie. In the friendly office environment where all this

work was undertaken, I could get a sense of what integral roles others played to

make SOC films operate, and that really added to my experience.

Now walking away from that well-rounded experience, having been given the

opportunity to genuinely help out at SOC, my own dreams in filmmaking no

longer feel so reserved for an impossible future.

Anusheh Siddiqi

Of cameras, close-ups & change

“So obviously everyone knows what shutter speed is?”

All of our blank faces stared expectantly back at Nadir.

“Okay then. And you’re going to be shooting on your own?”

“Yes.”

Feeling like we had wasted our entire lives learning everything but the dynamics of a camera, we listened intently as our new sensei went through all that we needed to know before filming our very first independent documentary.

We were filming the guard at the gate – and he had some very groundbreaking views about education in Swat!

Gul Khan had been a loyal employee of SOC films for the last 3 years and he was quite delighted to hear that he was finally getting to be in front of that heavy equipment he drove around for the crew. Three eager interns that we were, set about extrapolating minute details about his life from him while scribbling down everything and anything of interest on a recycled piece of paper we had nicked from the printer.

Gul Khan was a resident of the Swat region, his family still living there. One of his sons was working in Karachi, the other enrolled in a school as well as a madrassa back in Swat. He had two daughters too. Neither were educated. Aha, a story?

He proceeded to explain that the norms in his community were such a few years ago that girls were not put into school. The schools consisted of mainly male teachers and there weren’t separate classrooms for girls hence it was unsuitable for any girl to enjoy this privilege. Gul Khan couldn’t stress enough how he thought this norm was wrong and a result of illiterate and ignorant behavior. It obviously still had to be followed though. What would the people say?

He then proudly proclaimed that the situation was changing now and people finally understood the importance of equal education for both. There were separate schools and female teachers as well. He likened education to the headlight of a car, vital to find your way around in the darkness. Being three girls, we were delighted by his statement.

The rest of the day was a mixture of batteries, wires, sound levels, shooting frames and a series of recordings that we proudly loaded onto our computers. An amateur attempt at editing later, we had a three-minute reflection on the education system in Swat.

Well a series of unevenly filmed clips, half of them portraying a Gul Khan with no forehead.

No, we weren’t even close to an Oscar. Yes, it developed a sparking interest for this art in the three of us. As of yesterday, I have registered for a photography course online and the DSLR rotting in its bag in my cupboard has now been placed front and center on my desk.

This might just be the beginning of something very exciting.

— Maria Chawla

My internship experience at SOC Films

There have been few experiences in my life, that have impacted me the way, my time at SOC films has. Pursuing film, has been a long-standing dream that seems nerve twistingly far? It’s hard enough believing in yourself and no matter how much confidence you feign, sometimes you need a hand to stretch itself out and say, go for it! Dream bigger!

I came to SOC films, knowing that I wanted to pursue film but scared, that I wasn’t good enough. In Karachi, what value does a story have? I had no technical knowledge and I was fresh A-level graduate, when I joined the internship program.

It’s hard to believe that I found myself, in a pile of transcriptions and subtitles. Some interviews were a mechanical process of recording, lines of dialogue in correspondence to time codes but others moved me, they showed subjects beyond the victim-victimizer lens, these people, were resilient and their stories were powerful. I was keen to note, the interview process, from the style of questions being asked, to the way scenes and subjects were framed.

Transcriptions were just a stepping- stone and the work quickly paid off, as I was pulled onto research and other administrative tasks. It wasn’t just the work, that pushed me to grow, it was the team that made up SOC films. Everyone on the team, had their own personal narratives and their own style of teaching but they were all models of people who took the plunge and worked with commitment, to refine their skills. I had never looked at people as role models till my internship.

My second summer at SOC, I decided to take all the skills and knowledge, I had accumulated and shoot my own documentary. It was great, SOC films acted as my supervisor and I was able to earn 5 college credits as a fieldwork internship. The producers helped me with characters and gave me feedback on my interviews, while the cinematographer and editors gave me feedback on technical aspects. I interviewed people from all walks, to find leads and characters.

Going into the colonies of Karachi, and finding my own stories was high stress but it was a blast! It really pushed me to improve the technical aspects related to my work and threw me out of my comfort zone, in the best and worst possible way. The team at SOC films, was without the doubt, the best support network for my project.

This summer, I was able to shoot and edit a short 2 minute promo for SOC films, in addition to various other tasks. I received feedback from Sharmeen, the editors, the cinematographer and sound. Everything from content, lighting to the kind of music I wanted to use, was a learning curve.

Coming back to SOC, always makes me grow, I measure myself against the people who make up the team and I realize how much I still have left to learn. To date, there has never been a time, when my internship has not pushed me. I have gained a lot from the work I have done, the team and the other interns, all of them, have been remarkable. I am still quite nervous, when it comes to film, I constantly question whether I am good enough, but my internship stands as a personal reminder, to dream big and work hard.

— Eleyna Haroun

Ho Yaqeen Episodes

Ho Yaqeen is a groundbreaking six part documentary series, that tells the stories of individuals who have spearheaded efforts for a brighter Pakistan. The series follows these trailblazers as they pursue their ideals, realize their aspirations and work for change.

In case you missed them, here’s a round-up of all six episodes of Ho Yaqeen:

EPISODE 1: Sabina Khatri

PART 1

PART 2

In many ways, the district of Lyari is a microcosm of the various afflictions that plague Pakistan today. Deeply divided along ethnic lines, Lyari is haunted by civil unrest, violence and cyclical poverty. Not one to shy away from adversity, Sabina Khatri chose to tackle the root of the problem by opening a Montessori in the heart of Lyari. Today, the Kiran School serves as on oasis for children and parents; it is a place full of hope, laughter and bright futures.

EPISODE 2: Zahid Ameen

PART 1

PART 2

A resident of Muzaffarabad, Zahid Ameen has dedicated his life to restoring his community to its former glory. Severely affected in the 2005 earthquake, Gulshan Colony remains in a state of crisis and the lingering impact of the devastation continues to threaten its residents. By galvanizing his fellow community members and spearheading an effort to save his home town from impending monsoon rains, Zahid Ameen is now playing a vital role in securing a bright future for his city.

EPISODE 3: Dr. Parveen

PART 1

PART 2

Peshawar is a city teeming with drug addicts, some as young as eight years old. In the fight against drugs, Dr.Parveen and her organisation Dost Foundation are leading from the front lines.

 

EPISODE 4: Ghulam Fatima

PART 1

PART 2

Bonded labour is Pakistan is an undeniable reality. Abused, overworked and neglected, brick kiln workers in the Punjab are not much more than slaves to rich exploitative owners. Fatima is a civil rights worker who has dedicated her life to ensuring that bonded labourers gain access to equal rights and freedom. Fatima’s story is embedded with passion, unrelenting motivation and a deep sense of empathy for her fellow citizens.

EPISODE 5: Ali Akbar

PART 1

PART 2

The Thar desert in Sindh is known for its challenging living conditions; harsh terrains and extreme weather conditions are coupled with limited access to basic resources. It is common for people to walk for miles under the scorching sun to acquire a few pots of water. Ali Akbar, who hails from Thar, is working to change this so that the people of Thar get access to clean drinking water – something that is their basic human right.

 

EPISODE 6: Humera Bachal

TRAILER

The final episode of Ho Yaqeen brings you our youngest hero. 25-year old Humera Bachal is a staunch advocate of girls’ education in an environment where agents of status quo brutally resist the idea of female literacy that is prevalent from the mountains of Swat to the coast of Karachi.

The Story of Syeda Fatima and the Bonded Laborers of Punjab

Many talk boldly against modern day slavery and yet, are equally bold in justifying this atrocity. Slavery is one of the most prevalent manifestations of the consequences caused by false superiority that comes with power. We have heard about it, we have talked about it, we may have protested against it but do we really know how close at home it is? Roughly 27 million people are enslaved all over the world today. That is twice the number of people taken from Africa during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Slavery is overlooked because to most of us, it is a thing of the past.

“Brick kiln owners beat me with steel rods, they broke my leg and left me disabled.” 

“They raped me.”

“My family and I are forced to work and are beaten because we can’t pay our Rs. 30,000 debt.”

These are not the things you expect to hear in an era of constant progress where people are being educated about their rights but this is the reality about the brick kiln workers in Punjab who are imprisoned by bonded labor. Ho Yaqeen’s Episode 4 highlights the remarkable plight of Syeda Fatima, an on the ground abolitionist working to ensure that these brick kiln workers are treated humanely and are not enslaved by their employers. Brick kiln owners, like most enslavers, are powerful. Syeda Fatima has put hers and her family’s safety on the line as she battles for the freedom of these abused workers.

Lisa Kristine, a photographer and activist who focused her advocacy on modern day slavery, reiterates the story of her visit to brick kilns in India and Nepal. She described it vividly as somewhat like walking in a scene of Dante’s Inferno. Entire families worked for 16-17 hours a day, cloaked in a heavy blanket of dust, carrying bricks on their head within the premises of the scorching kiln. They were not given breaks for food or water, leaving them dehydrated and malnourished. She narrated the story of how her camera seized to work because of the pervasive heat and dust in the kiln that it had to be placed under an air conditioner every 20 minutes for it to be functional. If an inanimate object like a camera can’t stand the dire conditions of the brick kiln, how much more those who work there for practically every day for most of their lives?

The situation in the brick kilns of Punjab is no different. The laborers are devoid of any welfare from their employers. The brick kiln owners blatantly argued with Syeda Fatima when she confronted them about the way they treat their workers, saying: “It’s our right. We pay them.”  The workers and their families are enslaved for the rest of their lives over small debts, sold to other brick kiln owners, forced to work over promises of a better life for their children and lack of information about their rights. Syeda Fatima’s mission is to free them from bonded labor by enlightening them of what they are entitled to as human beings and as laborers even if it puts her safety at a great risk. Syeda Fatima’s brother himself suffered from the hands of their barbaric opponents who shot him in the kneecap, leaving him permanently disabled. Despite the threats and impediments Syeda Fatima has to battle, she remains persistent to pursue her aim of living to see brick kiln workers free from bonded labor.

Modern day slavery is not just a topic to be debated on, pondered upon or show sympathy onto. It is a skeleton collectively hidden in the closet by denial and lack of accountability. Ho Yaqeen’s episode 4 shows us that this is more than just an issue; this is the story of real people’s suffering and of slavery happening right before our eyes. I refuse to live in a world where products are given more value than the people who work to produce them. Let these stories awaken the Syeda Fatima hidden inside us; join the battle against modern day slavery.

‘Exceptional care without exception’ – Indus Hospital

Ever since I’ve started working with the SOC team as an intern, I’ve had the chance to watch several documentaries that highlight the many different facets which make up the Pakistani community. From transgenders acquiring jobs as tax collectors to women like Dr. Parveen, who was featured in a more recent project of SOC Films – ‘Ho Yaqeen,’ for dedicating her life to the rehabilitation of drug addicts in Peshawar, there is no dearth of inspiring individuals in Pakistan.
Just now, I came across SOC’s coverage of the Indus Hospital, a vast project initiated back in 2005. Spread over 20 acres of land Indus is Karachi’s first state of the art hospital to provide, as their motto states “quality care without cost.” I’m almost ashamed to admit that this was the first time I had ever heard of Indus and their work. In a country where sixty percent of its population lives on under Rs.180 a day, Indus Hospital provides a lifeline to many whose financial instability would otherwise condemn them to a life of tremendous pain and at times fatality.
Dr. Mansoor Ali, Professor of the Orthopaedics department featured in the documentary says “The biggest stumbling block of private practive is haggling with patients about how much they can pay and I have never been comfortable with that because you have a patient who’s in distress and you’re arguing about money. Here [at Indus] I don’t have to negotiate or haggle about money with anybody. If the treatment is expensive my hospital lets me provide it with no questions asked.”

SOC relates the story of two patients; Nazia, a mother of two who had contracted a progressively lethal flesh eating bacteria and Anas, an infant boy who had spent the greater part of the first two years of his life at Indus Hospital after a misused injection left him with an infection that almost left the boy an amputee. These two are just a number in the 14,000 patients Indus Hospital sees in a month, more than thrice the amount compared to any large private sector hospital. These distraught families come to Indus not just from Karachi but from far and wide, more often than not without a paisa to their name and entrust their lives to the staff at Indus Hospital. Fehmida – head nurse of the Pediatric department – says that “The most important moment is when you remind a patient that pain is temporary and there is always hope.”

Since its inauguration, The Indus Hospital has treated over a million patients completely free of cost and and boasts of its anti-discrimination policies. Muslims, non-muslims, ethnicity, language, the hospitals unofficial motto “exceptional care without exception” applies in every situation, to every entrant. Now a staff of more than 200 doctors and nurses, Fehmida speaks for all of them in the documentary when she says “It makes me proud to be a part of this organization.”
Indus Hospital is not the only project of its kind, there are many private ventures which aim at providing respite to the impoverished, ventures that are sustained by the donations and charities of our more fortunate citizens. These ventures are a testimony to our capabilities as a community, proving that we can make a difference if we come together and make the effort. We might have divided and fallen, but united we can find our feet again. Dr Mansoor sums it up best leaving us with these words.
“I keep coming back to Indus because here I see patients who have absolutely nothing, so I see it as a way of giving back to them. If more people in this world had this philosophy, the world would probably be a better place. We all have to do our little bit.”