By: Addison Wylie
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has made me exhale an astonished “wow” twice now. That’s a compliment I haven’t admitted to in a while. It’s absolutely true in the case of Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s harrowing doc Saving Face.
The mighty film, which deservedly won 2012’s ‘Best Documentary Short’ Oscar, shows audiences how disturbingly frequent and heartbreakingly affective acid crimes are. Every year, numerous Pakistani women are dosed with different forms of acidic attacks. The victims are left wondering what they did to deserve such torture and public humiliation.
Impressively, Junge and Obaid-Chinoy interview the alleged attackers – most of which are the husbands. They give emotionless stories claiming they had nothing to do with the burns, and that they’ve been wrongfully accused. The shiftiness in their testimonials as well as their unsupported proof doesn’t hold water – it’s blatant to see that. The filmmaking duo don’t have an agenda to make all Pakistani men look like monsters. They simply ask questions and let their cameras roll. What they capture are sit downs with these apathetic, terrible contributors to lifelong injury.
The act of acid crimes gets lots of attention from those who want to bring justice. A Londoner plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, flies to Pakistan to survey the pandemic and offer his assistance to reconstruct facial features. We see in every instance that he’s on screen how he tries to maintain his composure while his feelings of sadness and frustration seep out.
For a film that clocks in at under an hour (Saving Face is 52 minutes), the filmmakers pack a lot of development into the film. Junge and Obaid-Chinoy select individual subjects and open their lives up to us. The women, who embrace the filmmakers’ affection, show us what their living conditions are, take movie goers to the original spot where they were attacked, and explain personal barrenness. Saving Face gives audiences a very intimate and utmost honest view behind the veils and burqas without anything feeling too intrusive.
Because these victims are worried that a similar attack will happen in the near future, audiences are also shown other resources where these women can seek protection. We get an unbarred look at ASF – the Acid Survivors Foundation – and the kind saints who seek a change regarding the consequences the initiators face post-crime.
Saving Face is a powerful, well made and competently justified piece of work. The doc may seem quick, but nothing is ever cut too short. It has an impact in both its emotional connection and its respectful representation that beefier films would be jealous of. Just “wow”.
Catch Saving Face at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, March 2 at 3:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.