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Every year hundreds of people -- mostly women -- are attacked with acid in Pakistan. SAVING FACE follows several of these survivors, their fight for justice, and a Pakistani plastic surgeon who has returned to his homeland to help them restore their faces and their lives. Written by
I doubt anything shown on TV in the month of March will be as haunting or as oppressing as Saving Face, which took home the award for Best Documentary Short at The 84th Academy Awards - the first award given to a film from Pakistan. The film's subject matter is touchy, but its delivery is more than commendable. It tells the depressing stories of women who have been victim to acid attacks in Pakistan, yet offers optimism and hope that justice will be served at one point in time.
We're taken to Islamabad, where we are informed that hundreds of women are victim to acid attacks each year, and many are left unreported. One of the women, named Zakia, must resort to walking around town with her face wrapped in a sheet, with her eyes behind sunglasses. She states that her husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic who would suck up all her money. When there was no more money, she'd be abused and deemed lazy. It wasn't long until her husband dowsed her in acid leaving almost half of her face in unprecedented condition.
Another woman, this one pregnant, by the name of Rukhsana, stated that her husband threw acid on her face, followed by being soaked with gasoline by her sister-in-law, before being lit on fire by her mother-in-law. The husband, now in prison, states that she lit herself aflame, and that half the women in the Islamabad burn unit have done such an act to themselves. It's more than unforgivable to commit a crime of this magnitude, and then to say that the victim committed an act of self-harm.
The film not only follows the lives of these women, letting them tell their stories the way they want them to be told, but also focuses on Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon working in London who travels back to his homeland to operate on victims of acid attacks. Jawad is an admirable figure, one who speaks softly and is clearly proud of his contribution to the women of Islamabad.
So many Academy Award winning shorts are left unseen, and thanks to HBO, which will be airing this short all through the month of March, that will not be the case with Saving Face. This is a remarkable documentary, one that could've easily been of feature film status, depicting inequalities between men and women in separate countries. One of the most painful lines to hear in the film is when Rukhsana states that she hopes she gives birth to a boy so that his adult life won't be as ominous and as consumed with fear as one a woman must endure.
Saving Face is inconceivable and brilliant in its efforts to document a crime largely unknown to Americans. Sadly, the attacks are starting to take place around the globe. I remember seeing a TV special talking about an English model named Katie Piper, whose acid attack left her face very rigid, rough, and irreversible. The thought of people resorting to the level of permanent facial damage to a woman is depressing to imagine, most likely immensely disheartening to experience, and impossible to justify. Thankfully, we have documentaries like this one to inform and enlighten us.
Starring: Zakia, Rukhsana, and Dr. Mohammad Jawad. Directed by: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, and Daniel Junge.
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