Sunday, February 26, 2012

Documentary Short "Saving Face," about reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, wins Academy Award

An interview with Daniel Junge in Westword in Colorado on Feb. 24:

This isn't Daniel Junge's first trip to the Oscars. The Colorado-based filmmaker was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for his documentary The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner; this time he's nominated in the Documentary Short category for Saving Face, a film that follows a Pakistani plastic surgeon dedicated to performing reconstructive surgery on women who've been attacked with acid. In advance of his trip to Los Angeles for Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we caught up with Junge and talked with him about traveling to Pakistan, hobnobbing with celebrities, and the Colorado film industry.

Westword: How did you learn about the acid attacks in Pakistan?

Daniel Junge: Well, I knew about it in the back of my head, but I wasn't intending to make a film on it. But I was listening to BBC World Radio and I heard an interview; there was an acid attack in the streets of London on an aspiring model there, Katie Piper. It was a very big news story three years ago, and she mentioned that her personal hero was her surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad. And when I heard that I thought, "Mohammad Jawad, that doesn't sound very Anglo." So I called him up out of the blue at Chelsea Hospital and I said, "Are you aware of the incidents of acid attacks in South Asia and in the Muslim world?" And he said, "I know about it, I've been going to help some of these women and I'm going in six weeks. Do you want to come?" And that's how the adventure began.

What was the process of making the film?

I should tell you that the process was made much easier by having a great Pakistani partner on the ground. I teamed up with, in my mind, the country's best filmmaker: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. She's an Emmy-winning filmmaker, and having a partner on the ground there, especially a woman who could go and shoot some of the most sensitive stuff without me, was just great -- not only for safety concerns but for the comfort of the subjects. I think it gives the film an intimacy in rural Pakistan that I wouldn't have been able to do myself.

What made you want to tell this story?

Most of my films have had a strong social justice component, and hopefully they've helped implement change. This was a not terribly well-known phenomenon, an absolutely horrible phenomenon that we felt shedding some light on it might help. And also knowing that it's such a captivating subject, what's happened to these women is so horrific and what Dr. Jawad is doing with his reconstructive surgery's just a natural story and makes for a great film and hopefully is going to help facilitate change.

What do you hope people get out of watching the film?

First of all, I think that when people hear of the nature of the subject, they think it's all doom and gloom and horror, and of course it is, it's extremely dark subject matter. But I hope that when people watch the film, they see Pakistanis addressing a Pakistani problem, and moreover, they see a Pakistani filmmaker, my partner Sharmeen, documenting Pakistanis addressing this problem. I want viewers to come away with a sense of hope and empowering the institutions which are fomenting change, rather than just think it's an unchangeable situation.

What can viewers do to take action?

We are building an extensive outreach campaign -- I think it's a vital part of social justice filmmaking, and it's going to be my strongest outreach campaign yet. My wife is the outreach director and she has already gotten some nice grants and started building the website, the educational materials and the awareness campaign. That's There's a number of ways that viewers can become engaged after seeing the film. I'm really excited about that.