Jawad Sharif talks about being a National Geographic Explorer

February 25, 2024

After attending the annual National Geographic Storytellers Summit earlier this month, the Islamabad-based filmmaker explains what it means to become an Explorer and shines a light on an upcoming production that is being supported by the prestigious platform.

Jawad Sharif talks about being a National Geographic Explorer


or too long, we’ve gotten swayed by films for all the wrong reasons. It isn’t because these films represent the most compelling work we’ve encountered. Or, they shake us and provoke as a wake-up call. We are biased to them because of prominent name or names that are attached to them. You might be thinking of a fictional film with high-profile actors. But this rule also applies to documentaries. If a documentary is produced or directed by a prominent name, we will look at what can be an average documentary like it is a work of art, heart and vision. It is a colossal mistake and one we’re accustomed to in the name of creating an “industry” and other similar jargon.

However, when we look at films and documentaries on merit alone, dismiss prolific names that have some connection to them, a different story emerges.

There are those who are not seen as ‘stars’ in the public eye, or within industry ranks. But they have continuously done superior work. One such name is that of Jawad Sharif. For a documentary filmmaker, Sharif doesn’t spend his time courting journalists to cover his work. However, if anyone takes a closer look at his work, it stands to reason that he has crossed the rubicon and is ahead of everyone else due to the stories he has told.

There are several examples that confirm this hypothesis. Indus Blues, The Color of Smog, Natari, K-2 & The Invisible Footmen, among others, are the finest documentaries he has made. More are in the pipeline, with some in production and others that are finished but unreleased at this point. What we can ascertain from his collective works (watch out for a larger story) is that every documentary Sharif has made represent stories and narratives that are overlooked. In every film, he has poured his heart and soul for it to become a tangible production. The amount of research he puts into each project is palpable when you get a chance to see his work.

So, it comes as no surprise that Jawad Sharif is a National Geographic Explorer since 2023 and he was present at the National Geographic Storytellers Summit this year, which was held in Los Angeles, California, earlier this month.

For Sharif, who spoke to this paper after attending the two-day summit, being a National Geographic Explorer has been the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. In an exclusive conversation, Sharif confirmed that he was the only person from Pakistan who was present at the summit and the only person from the country to become a National Geographic Explorer. Sharif explained that being a National Geographic Explorer was not only a personal achievement but a moment of national pride as he was representing Pakistan at such a platform.

The Islamabad-based filmmaker said, “Being an Explorer means you’re a part of the National Geographic community. As an Explorer, you work on different subjects such as our planet, ecosystem, wildlife, social issues, cultural stories, indigenous communities, among others. Explorers collaborate and support each other. They observe and document stories that matter. They come from different backgrounds and can be of diverse ethnicities but they respect other cultures, natural environment and can be experts in different fields. What Explorers have in common are shared values, and the hope to make a difference, even in the face of multitude of challenges.”

Jawad Sharif talks about being a National Geographic Explorer

Sharif added: NatGeo supports us as we work on different topics. For example, I’m working on a film (The Last Mohanas) which is about Manchar lake that is told through the eyes of its indigenous community, in a bid to save, revive and preserve the lake. It also takes a closer look at its past, present and future. National Geographic is supporting me in make this film.”

In terms of support, Sharif notes: “It can mean different things such as mentorship, fellowship or financial support so when you’re working on a project backed by such a prestigious platform, you learn so much and you get significant exposure. I am hopeful that being an Explorer will open new doors for other projects that I’m working on in Pakistan and create a path for other Pakistani filmmakers as well who can become a part of the National Geographic community by documenting important stories.”

Jawad Sharif talks about being a National Geographic Explorer