Sights and sounds of ILF 2021

By Shermeen Zuberi
Fri, 11, 21

The Digital Islamabad Literature Festival was a three-day event which started on Friday 29th October and concluded on Sunday, 31 October 2021....

Sights and sounds of ILF 2021


The Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) was launched in April 2013 and has been a resounding success right from the start. The Digital Islamabad Literature Festival was a three-day event which started on Friday 29th October and concluded on Sunday, 31 October 2021.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, former Ambassador at the UN, the US and UK, and Mr. Hameed Shahid TI, an Urdu fiction writer and critic.

Sights and sounds of ILF 2021

It featured more than 130 speakers including Michael Kugelman, Elizabeth Jane Burnett, Julien Columeau, Anita Weiss, Ahmed Rashid, Nasim Zehra, Asghar Nadeem Syed, Kishwar Naheed, Wasim Sajjad, Raza Rabbani, Muneeza Shamsie, Sherry Rahman, Hina Rabbani Khar, Harris Khalique, and Zahid Hussain, in 38 sessions representing 10 different countries including Pakistan, UK, USA, Bangladesh, Iran, France, Germany, Dubai, and India.

From realising literature as a connection across frontiers to exploring politics and power sharing, including conversations on climate change as seen in society, to weighing in on the new normal with the single national curriculum and digital education, the eighth Islamabad Literature Festival put up an interesting combination of panel discussions and talks amongst other things in yet another digital version of the programme during Covid-19.

About the power of fiction

“Fiction allows us to inhabit the minds of other people and so, while I was completing my PhD, training to become a social anthropologist, I thought wouldn’t it be great if I could tell the story of Bangladesh War of Independence through a novel, through the eyes of someone you wouldn’t expect to see in a history book!” gushed Tahmima Anam, recipient of an O. Henry Prize and recently elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, while giving an insight into how and why she chose fiction as a medium to express her powerful ideas.

“It’s a very different world than it was more than 10 years ago - there’s definitely an appetite for new stories. You never really know what’s going to take off. It’s a great time to be out there; find an agent, find a publisher. The next great step would be to embrace diversity within literary fiction, to not necessarily expect people from minority communities to write about identity, race or colonialism.”

Sights and sounds of ILF 2021

About the future of digital entertainment

“The Pakistani TV channels think they are doing very good work. However, they are not encouraging any kind of independent thought, doing the same horrific serials day in and day out,” says Mehreen Jabbar, award-winning and critically acclaimed director and producer, on the fact that there are no opportunities for young filmmakers who wish to experiment with short episodes or smaller films.

“There’s a lot of good stuff happening locally, but at the same time there’s no investment (apart from one or two universities) especially from the government to teach discourse and analytical frame of mind on how to see cinema and storytelling, to nurture talent.

Sights and sounds of ILF 2021

“Nothing is being done to take advantage of OTTs that are an excellent medium for people who want to create content (keeping in mind their low budget), that allows them freedom of expression, something which the TV channels do not provide. The popularity of Netflix productions like Squid Games, Bridgerton, and The Queen’s Gambit - they are all very different shows which broke records all over the world - prove that it’s a crazy business where you can’t predict which thing would appeal to any particular audience. A lot of Pakistanis are obsessed with Korean shows right now so who’s to say if we get our foot in maybe a Pakistani show will appeal to countries all over the world. When Netflix sees that there is profit in our content as well, it would definitely invest.”

“The issue lies in the lack of political will that things needs to change. The way things are being done should not be acceptable but it would only happen when there is an awareness in society, when the mindsets change [and adapt to the need of the hour] because it’s not just the filmmaker and the content creator, but also about the entire narrative of the country when it comes to development of these platforms,” added Pakistani television and stage actor and TV host Sania Saeed.

“We at ILF take it as a given that these times are unique and that the tomorrow we are heading into will require distinctively different understandings and approaches to yesterday. We need to understand that the future will be quite different from the past. And we will require all our imagination and all our creativity for Reimagining the Future.” - Arshad Saeed Husain, Managing Director of Oxford University Press Pakistan