Filmmakers disheartened after censor board halts screening of documentary My Mother’s Daughter at local festival

Filmmakers disheartened after censor board halts screening of documentary My Mother’s Daughter at local festival

The board claimed the film about child marriage and the forced conversion of a Christian girl goes "against Pakistani culture".
10 Mar, 2023

It’s tough to be a filmmaker in Pakistan — even more so if you’re trying to do some real work and shine a light on stories that go beyond the surface. My Mother’s Daughter, Mariam Khan and Ahmen Khawaja’s short documentary about child marriage and the forced conversion of a Christian girl, has been given the ax by the Central Board of Film Censors. The filmmakers told Images that though they are “disheartened”, they will keep fighting for their film.

Termed “propaganda” by the board, My Mother’s Daughter was stopped from being screened at the Women Through Film festival. On Wednesday, Khan shared a letter from the board on Instagram and wrote, “On International Women’s Day we found out that Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors in Islamabad (CBFC) has decided to censor our short documentary My Mother’s Daughter and is not allowing it to screen this weekend at the Women Through Film film festival.”

She explained that the film follows the real story of a minor Christian girl in Faisalabad who was abducted by a middle aged man, forcefully married to him and converted to Islam. “Up to 1,000 young girls are forcefully converted every year and to call this propaganda is a gross injustice to their plight and stories. We spent months verifying the case and going to court hearings with the survivor to ensure the utmost authenticity in the film,” she said.

The directors told Images that they were shocked to hear that their film is being censored at a film festival. “We’re disappointed to hear that though international films from India and Israel have been approved, ours is facing a ban. It isn’t even fiction, it’s non-fiction. A Pakistani film is being stopped from screening at a Pakistani film festival,” said Khawaja.

In the letter, the CBFC claimed that the subject film was examined by a panel of the Board on February 27 and “the members unanimously found the documentary film unsuitable for exhibition for the reasons that the short documentary seems more a propaganda. Unauthenticated judicial procedure shown, wrong values are highlighted which is against the Pakistani culture and society,” it stated.

In response, the filmmakers called for a full board review but it was denied to them. “Upon speaking directly with the chairperson, we were told ‘the full board review can’t be done before the festival because the office is being renovated’.” They suggested an online review but were asked to arrange a hall at Centaurus in Islamabad for the board members to be shown the film.

My Mother’s Daughter has been screened at three Pakistani film festivals in Karachi and Lahore — Prism, Divvy and Women of the World — and there have been no problems. The Women Through Film festival curator told the filmmakers that films are screened every year by the censor board and they have faced this issue before with a different film.

Khawaja said that many international festivals have written to them and said they loved their film. “It is being screened at the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival in Canada at the end of this month. The film has won seven or eight international awards. It just goes to say that Pakistani films get more appreciation outside rather than inside which is why the industry cannot grow,” she said.

“We are budding filmmakers, we do not need dejection or rejection, we need local support,” she said, adding that the Pakistani filmmaking industry has their backs. “But when the government stops you from even having a conversation, where do you go from there? How do we make an impact?” she questioned.

“A lot of people reached out to us and what they said was this is how you know you have made it, your film has been banned, which will arouse attention and people will want to watch it. That’s sad,” she commented. “This is how people want to see our film, after it has been brandished with the mark of controversy?”

The filmmakers stressed upon how real these cases are and how people are in denial about it. They compared their documentary with news and said, “The news also shows these cases, will we also censor the news? Is the news, then, also propaganda?”

Khan and Khawaja have decided to keep fighting for their film. They have accepted that it is not a possibility for the festival, which is mere days away but they do not intend on letting this slide. “The idea to make this documentary came to us because we wanted to let people know girls like Mehak exist. We’re disheartened, especially as budding female filmmakers, we don’t know where to go from here.”

Khan said, “We can’t continue sweeping issues like this under the rug. By doing that, we are providing a safe space for criminals. How will these things get reduced if we don’t even have these conversations?”