Friday, February 24, 2012

Saving faces, saving women

Oscar-nominated film to be shown at film festival

Express Staff Writer

Dr. Mohammad Jawad examines Zakia’s face. The Pakistani-born plastic surgeon left his successful practice in London to help women from his homeland who had been affected by horrific acid attacks. “Saving Face” follows his progress as he helps restore the lives of two such women, Zakia and Rukhsana.Courtesy photos

"This is where they burned me alive," says the formerly beautiful Zakia in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Saving Face."

"Zakia used to pride herself on her looks. She was very pretty," said the film's director, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, in an interview with NPR. "Now her nose is partially melted, she lost an eye completely and parts of the right and left side of her face are melted."

Addressing the horrific issue of acid attacks in Pakistan, "Saving Face" is a compelling documentary that will have its day in the global spotlight this Sunday as it competes for Best Documentary Short at the Academy Awards. Then, after the glamour of Hollywood, co-director Daniel Junge will bring his film and its hero, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, to Sun Valley to open the fifth annual Family of Woman Film Festival at the Sun Valley Opera House on Friday, March 2.

Acid attacks affect more than 100 Pakistani women every year. "Saving Face" explores the issue as well as the impressive lengths that Pakistani authorities have gone to combat it.

"This is a story of hope as much as it is a story of despair," Chinoy said. "It's about how Pakistanis are helping Pakistanis, and getting a bill passed in parliament. It shows that Pakistan can solve its problems if it tackles them from all fronts."

Acid attacks, through which women are disfigured by acid thrown on their faces, are limited to the Pakistani region and are usually conducted by men whose advances the women have rejected (the thinking is presumably "If I can't have her, no one will."). But while this particular women's issue is localized, it is only one form of atrocities and abuse inflicted on women across the globe.

The Family of Woman Film Festival was started in 2007 by Ketchum resident Peggy Goldwyn to help women like Zakia. The festival supports the efforts of the United Nations Population Fund, the UN organization responsible for providing women's health care and promoting the rights of women around the world. It is the largest international source of assistance to women.

"People in developing countries and in Europe know about UNFPA, but people in America don't know it exists," Goldwyn said. "So I'm trying to raise awareness about what it does, as well as raise support. Because there is that damned element in this country that thinks women shouldn't have sex! It's the anti-abortionists."

While the UNFPA supports a woman's right to choose, if abortion is illegal in a country, it works with the country's government and engages in family planning to help girls, women and their babies.

"Then they do a lot of work repairing botched illegal abortions," Goldwyn said.

She said the best way to bring developing countries forward is by focusing on the women.

"If you educate women, they marry later and have fewer children, and the money they are then able to earn goes toward supporting their family, thus you're building infrastructure," she said. "When a women dies in childbirth, she's leaving orphans who are more ripe to be recruited by terrorists."

Goldwyn said UFNPA has made a lot of progress in recent years. Refunding the agency was the first bill that Barack Obama signed into law after becoming president. U.S. funding had been eliminated during the administration of President George W. Bush on the grounds that it support forced abortions and sterilization in China.


Goldwyn recalls sitting next to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, during a recent Washington lobby day.

"He got it," she said. "He seemed to finally understand that empowering women and girls is a lot cheaper than any other type of foreign aid. And that's part of the message that is in all these films."

Goldwyn said the film festival has raised about $80,000 for UNFPA during the past four years, and the organization recognizes the impact of her work. Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the UNFPA and undersecretary general of the U.N., has said he will attend the festival.

"These people don't normally do this sort of thing," Goldwyn said. "But he's going to come here, and he's excited about this idea of showing films to tell a story."

Goldwyn said Sun Valley is particularly suited to eliciting help from the community for important organizations such as UNFPA.

"I presented a film in L.A. a while ago about genital mutilation. We had a decent turnout, but not great," she sasid. "It made me realize that it's so hard to get people in L.A. But in Sun Valley, it's different. People come here to relax and they go see things they would never do in L.A. It's much easier to reach people here."

The 84th Academy Awards will air on ABC at 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26. See Wednesday's Idaho Mountain Express Arts Section for details on all the films showing at the 2012 Family of Woman Film Festival, beginning Friday, March 2.

Jennifer Tuohy:

Oscar documentary nominees:

"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement," by Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin.

"God Is the Bigger Elvis," by Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson.

"Incident in New Baghdad," by James Spione.

"Saving Face," by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," by Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen.

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