Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In Toronto’s Top 10

Posted on January 9, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Pakistanis Abroad, People, TV, Movies & Theatre, Women
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Adil Najam

Canadian newspaper Toronto Star recently named its list of “10 to Watch in 2007.” Ten people living in the Greater Toronto area who the newspaper thinks are “poised to make a splash in 2007.” On that list is a young Pakistani documentary film-maker: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

I am particularly happy to report this news because I have been meaning to write about her work for a while, and this is the perfect reason to. In fact, she is an early friend of ATP and you may have seen her commenting here. But, it is more likely that you have seen her work on such award winning shows as PBS’s Frontline. And if you have not, I am betting you soon will.

Here is what the Toronto Star has to say about it:

In her short career, launched when she was still in university, Obaid-Chinoy has made 10 personal, passionate documentaries and won as many prizes. Now 28 and based in Toronto, she is making two more films in 2007, one on the lives of Afghan women five years after the U.S. invasion, and another on the legacy of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe.

Terror’s Children, [a documentary] about Afghan refugees living in her homeland, Pakistan, launched her career in 2002 and immediately won three awards. Her second, a searing look at the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, won four more prizes, including the Livingston Award for young journalists under 35. Obaid-Chinoy was the first non-American to receive it. Other winners in the category of international reporting include David Remnick, now editor of The New Yorker, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and Christiane Amanpour of CNN. Bill Abrams, former president of New York Times Television, says when he first encountered Obaid-Chinoy, then a college student, “I thought, this person could be the next Christiane Amanpour “sophisticated, smart, fearless.”

The list of her work, available on her website, is impressive indeed, and she has taken on some of the most pressing and important social issues to work on in her documentaries. The best exemplar of her work is the documentary ‘On A Razor’s Edge’ about the India-Pakistan peace process, shown on Frontline in 2004. The website about the documentary has an interview with her which shows her as a person of conviction as well as idealism. Both of those are endearing qualities in our world today. The write-up on the documentary, introduces Sharmeen and her work thus:

Spring has arrived in Pakistan, and the season has brought a thaw in the Cold War between Pakistan and India, bitter enemies for more than 50 years. A train is now allowed to cross the border. FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sharmeen Obaid boards this “peace train” in India and travels home to Pakistan to see how people are reacting to the cautious attempts to settle differences between the two countries. Born and raised in Pakistan, Obaid is now a graduate student at Stanford as well as a reporter for New York Times Television who has covered the dramatic political and social changes in Pakistan since 9/11 and the U.S. intervention in neighboring Afghanistan.

On the train Obaid meets a woman who is on her way to a reunion with her children and grandchildren in Pakistan. “I’ve prayed for the day the borders would open,” she tells Obaid. As the train pulls into the city of Lahore, Pakistan, Obaid witnesses the meaning of reconciliation as long-separated families and friends embrace each other. All this is possible because of a historic handshake between Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who agreed to begin peace talks in January 2004. That night in Lahore, Obaid sees the start of Basant, a festival celebrating the advent of spring. Originally a Hindu holiday, Basant has long been embraced by Pakistan’s Muslim majority. It is a time of kite flying, dancing, even drinking. As she wanders the gaily-lit streets at night, Obaid speaks with Pakistanis who tell her they are hopeful about the possibility of a real peace with India. But there is also a note of caution. “Ask me another time,” an older street vendor tells her. “If this interview is aired, we will both be jailed. This is Pakistan!”

If you are like me you are already hooked and you want to read more about this. You can, here. If you do, you will read about her encounters with Jugnu Mohsin, Ahmed Rashin, Gen. Hamid Gul, Gen. Aslam Beg, and many more in the weeks and months when the A.Q. Khan case was blowing up all over the place.

Better still, you can watch the whole documentary here. Or just do a google and you can watch a lot more of her work. Do so, its worth watching.

Congratulations, Sharmeen. Like the Toronto Star, ATP will also be watching you in 2007 and beyond!

43 responses to “Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In Toronto’s Top 10”

  1. steve says:

    I mostly agree with Rasheed, but think that she doesn’t need warning. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s doing very well out of it thank-you. The documentary business is like all the others it’s fiercely competitive. She is pictured above all cool, holding the tool of her trade. FAKE. Anyone could do it (what she does) and many much better.

    Being in the business I make it my business to watch everything made about Pakistan. The problem with this is that it’s just not very good. At best nothing we don’t already know, and at worse stereotyping and exaggeration for effect. She is never at risk any more than is John Simpson, only the crew who you never get to hear about are ever at risk. She like so many other documentary makers spend not one second longer in the country than they need to get the job done. Is it better than nothing? Why is nothing the alternative, anyone really think there couldn’t be better than this???

  2. Fatpurse says:

    Rasheed, what you have pointed towards does make sense.

  3. Rasheed says:

    Trying here not to take away from the achievements of Ms. Chinoy, and while it is great to see a young Pakistani get recognized, I would caution against ignoring another possible trend: where the west welcomes Muslims, especially younger beautiful women to criticize their own and expose our weaknesses to the world and recognizes them for these “courageous” acts.

    Presentations of most such works are prefaced by how courageous it was for this or that woman to speak out in spite of an oppressive Muslim society where women cannot speak out and so on and so forth. I wonder how successful Ms. Chinoy would be in airing a film in the west exposing their hypocricy in the hatefully and criminally anti-Muslim US foreign policy and in their so-called war on terror.

    Iranian Christianne Amanpour, married to Richard Boucher, if I’m not mistaken, is given great stature in the west; The Afghan woman Saira Shah who aired “Beneath the Veil” on CNN and now Ms. Chinoy. There are probably many more. And I don’t know where “Chinoy” comes from – hopefully not Mike Chinoy of CNN! – nothing particularly against Mike :)

    If this forum has Ms. Chinoy’s ear I’d like to caution her against being used by the West for their own agenda. I know this might sound less than flattering, but when it happens, it happens very gradually and one doesn’t realize how easily one slides off. I’ve experienced some of this in my local media.

    With all that said, congratulations on the good work, which, no doubt does take talent and courage to put together!

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