Sunday, November 10, 2013
Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Without Shepherds
Pakistan is a very misunderstood country. Historically it is the birthplace of many significant ancient societies and a centre for art and culture. Currently it is viewed as a very dangerous place subject to suicide bombings and drone strikes and an apparent safe haven for terrorists. It's viewed as acting like Western ally when its time to collect aid then switches to a rogue state on other occasions.
It's under this setting that director Cary McClelland and co-director/cinematographer Imran Babur embarked on a two-year project to follow six Pakistanis from different walks of life to obtain each participant's individual vision of the country and an impression of the country as a whole.
The film begins by displaying a map of Pakistan on screen a device that is used throughout the film to situate the players. The map shows where Pakistan was cut out from colonial India and its other neighbours Iran to the West, Afghanistan to the North and China to the East. Next we meet truck driver Abdullah Khan who is at a Northern town looking to pick up a load. He has a heated discussion with his suppliers about the nature and size of the load not being the same as promised. We meet model Vaneeza Ahmad as she is being interviewed for television. The male interviewer is obviously uncomfortable with her looks, success and presence however Vaneeza that effect what she has to say. Journalist Labia Yousafzai is introduced while touring a northern refugee camps speaking to women and families learning their stories of escape from Afghanistan. Musician Arieb Azhar serves as the narrator of the film. He has lived a third of his life outside of Pakistan including 13 years in Croatia.
The most recognizable face and name in the production is cricket legend turn politician Imran Khan. He felt obliged to become involved politically after Musharraf seized power. Khan has an energy that the people will follow. His main refrain at his rallies is: What is the meaning of Pakistan? Answer: There is no God but God. Khan sees Musharraf as a fraud and the only way forward for the country is to fight for democracy. He also senses hypocrisy from the West. The want democracy in Iran and forced out Saddam Hussein but in Pakistan they are perfectly willing to work with Musharraf who took power by force. The last member of the group that McClelland follows is Mohammed Ibrahim a student who while estranged from his family took up with the Mujahideen fighters. At the time they filled a void in his life providing friendship and guidance.
The production team follows the activities of the group around the country. The camera is along for the ride as Abdullah Khan takes his cargo in his elaborately decorated truck from the North end of the country to the South. He always stops to take time out to pray as he traverses his route. He commands respect when he is behind the wheel of the truck but laments that he is not treated well by is fellow citizens when he is not.
Imran Khan is seen a various rallies for the PTI Party and at home with is family. A touching sequence is his description of the fear that his older son has for his safety using the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a reference point. Imran was jailed when he first started on his political course. As he describes it by the same people that cheered him when he led Pakistan to their first every Cricket defeat of India. He noticed that there were many good people in jail and the murders and thieves who should be in jail were running the government. Khan sees no difference between the current ruler Zardari and Musharraf proclaiming that they are both cut from the same cloth.
One of the top exchanges in the film comes between Vaneeza and the factor that is producing her designs. The factory heads explanation for why the colours are running is that the women don't know how to wash properly. He proceeds to demonstrate a method that no one would ever do. Vaneeza comments that this is an example of the problem with the country. Everyone is only committed to do the minimum to get by.
The editing team lead by Fasil Azam did excellent work on the film. Key examples are Laiba Yousafzai's interview with a young boy who is being sent back to Afghanistan. He remarks that if there is no school close by he will follow in his father who was martyred in the war's footsteps. The boys tears are closely followed by Mohammed Ibrihim with his face buried in his hands crying as he discusses the reasons why he left the Mujahid and what he has considered doing given his current state of mind. Another great transition is from the Khan family heading for a hike on a lush green trail to Ibrihim and a friend hiking in the narrow passages in the high desert. Ibrihim's friend recites the theme behind the title of the film. Animals in these hills are often without shepherds they are allowed to roam free and no matter how far they go they will always come home by dusk. That freedom is also the essence behind Imran Khan God is God refrain.
Without Shepherds is a ground level look at today's Pakistan thorough 6 very different set of eyes. It's a fascinating study of a Country born out of colonialism and virtually in a constant state of conflict with its neighbours ever since. But its citizens see a lot of good and potential in the State if one is willing to stand up and fight for it. Unfortunately many residence see different avenues to pursue the goal or worse do nothing allowing the status quo to continue.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Without Shepherds | Cary Mclelland / Imran Babur | U.S.A. / Pakistan | 2013 | 89 Minutes.
2008, Transition, PTI Party, Cross Country Travel, Religion, God, Freedom, Mujahideen, Mujahid, refugees, Taliban, Terrorism.