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July 19, 2019

Action films – the way forward

Opinion

July 19, 2019

With the restoration of peace, Pakistan has a golden opportunity to convert the 'war on terror' into a big film business activity by officially supporting film-making in genres such as action, war, adventure, and epics.

This has somewhat already been articulated in the film policy announced last year. The policy says: “Screen tourism, also referred to as film and drama tourism or film and drama induced tourism, is a phenomenon in which the depiction of a location on screen subsequently drives tourist visit. The effects for some locations can be both powerful and lucrative, and many destinations have tracked significant screen tourism impact.”

“There are different aspects of screen tourism that can be looked at for instance (a) Specific sites – which become popular destinations due to their appearances on small or large screens; (b) Attraction – attractions in form of place, character, incident, festivals with a connection to film and drama; [and] (c) thematic visits on tours etc. Screen tourism can also be promoted by hosting international film festivals and conferences or allowing foreign film and drama producers to use Pakistani sites or locations,” the policy added.

The policy also talks of establishing an online location library as a tool to help potential national and foreign filmmakers to identify unique locations for filming and cinematography.

Pakistan has been in the center of international wars for over four decades now. This has created many story-lines which are full of action, human valour and tragedy. To these narratives, filmmakers from Hollywood and other filmmaking countries will be interested.

The topmost epic story remains the capture of Osama bin Laden from a residential compound of Abbottabad. The three-storey house he was living in was demolished, depriving future governments to give a narrative to the whole 'capture drama' through film or documentary. Interestingly, the compound was destroyed after its images were already been captured by TV cameras and became part of international video and photo archives.

Such a situation is also highlighted in the film policy in its chapter "rediscovering national narrative." It says: "As history demonstrates, film, amongst other art forms, can be a powerful weapon for propaganda. The positive side of this coin is the ability of [the] film industry to provide and promote multiple perspectives on historic events, societal mores and norms and unleashing the process of transformational change that discourages the emergence of fissiparous and divisive tendencies in a society and neutralizes the impact of harmful social taboos and attitudes that hinder creativity and openness.”

In this age of sci-fi, where locations can be recreated, a government cannot control the film narrative. One of the best movies on the Afghan war is 'Charlie Wilson's War'. The film should have been shot in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it was filmed in Morocco. Similarly, 'Rambo III' successfully cheated audiences by showing mock-up scenes from Pakistan. 'Earth', another movie that is based on Bapsi Sidwa’s novel, should have been shot in Lahore.

The 2018 policy – 'Rejuvenating Pakistani Cinema and Drama' – has yet to be translated into an action plan that may specifically target foreign filmmakers with attractive shooting facilities to film Pakistan’s religious and adventure landscape – with Sikh and Buddhist religious sites and tallest mountains led by the more than 8000 meters K-2, and 108 peaks above 7,000 meters. The policy also talks of often touted recommendations such as tax incentives, banking credits, and establishment of a training academy, studio, and post-production facility.

Similar recommendations were made soon after the creation of Pakistan. In 1955, the then best filmmakers, Italian film experts were invited by the government to evaluate and make recommendations. Experts studied the then existing film industry which consisted of six studios and 130 cinemas with 200,000 seats. Around 10 films were made annually with per film cost between Rs200,000 and Rs250,000. The major chunk of the cost was incurred on music.

The Italians recommended that the concessions to film be enhanced to bring it at par with other industries, and its development be ensured with special laws; reduction in different taxes; fully-equipped pilot studios be established in collaboration with Italians and to enter into joint production with them besides establishing a training school.

The report enthused some movement as in 1959 the government sanctioned Rs10 million for the promotion of the film industry. Foreign film festivals were held in the country while the local films were shown abroad. In 1965 after the war with India, again a nine-member Film Fact Finding Committee (FFFC) headed by N M Khan made 47 recommendations in 1966, giving a five-year plan including a ban on the import of Indian film for next five years; to add at least 500 more cinemas to then existing 400 cinemas; and increasing the around 40 annual production of films to 200 while importing 350 other from all over the world except India.

The FFFC suggested that the length of the film should be restricted to 12,000 feet; a reduction in tax; establishing music and film academies, establishing film manufacturing and processing laboratories in addition to establishing NAFDEC (the National Film Development Corporation) and entering into co-production with other countries and participating in international festivals.

However, before the start of any implementation plan, the 1971 war with India resulted in the dismemberment of the country. In 1973, again efforts were made to revive the industry with a film convention held in Lahore that ended in bringing the government into film production, constructing the film academy and cinemas in addition to controlling the import and export of the film and raw material, etc, and to organize film festivals in the country and participate internationally.

But the fact remains that none of these recommendations brought the desired fruit as was recorded by the Film Policy in 1979: "Pakistan is among the lowest in the world in the ratio of cinema seats to population. While Unesco has prescribed a minimum standard of two cinema seats for 100 persons, Pakistan has only 0.5 seats. Since the pictures are poor, they cannot recover their cost from the circuit, and the circuit cannot be enlarged because there is no attraction for a potential investor in building cinemas.”

In later decades, cinema was reformed with an objective to reform society; film production nosedived. In 2007, the federal government developed a policy framework that allowed the exhibition of foreign cinematographic films (including Indian cast and crew) in Pakistani cinemas. Though this policy framework has never been made public, the government revealed the existence of such a framework in replying to a question in the National Assembly in 2017. The policy helped resuscitate cinema houses and filmmaking in Pakistan. [Indian films were again banned after war skirmishes early this year].

With the introduction of the new policy, the question is whether budgetary allocations will back the recent policy. So far, the answer is in the negative. Pakistan is uniquely located in the middle of three big filmmaking countries – China, Iran, and India. Joint ventures and closer collaboration can be a moot point in helping the policy and rejuvenating film in Pakistan.

The writer is a freelancecontributor.

Email: [email protected]

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