Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy born in 1978 is an Emmy and Oscar award-winning Pakistani-Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker. She won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She is also the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. On 26 February 2012 Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won an Oscar for her documentary film, Saving Face. She has been lauded as Pakistan’s first Oscar winner by the press and government.
On being asked how she felt on receiving such an honor Sharmeen expressed, “Shock is not an emotion, but that is the first thing that I felt. My heart stopped and I didn’t move until I saw Daniel Junge (“Saving Face” co-director) running down the stairs towards the stage.”
Sharmeen believes, winning the Oscar was a testament to her long-held belief that if you work hard and strive for excellence, the world will appreciate your product and your efforts will be recognized. The worldwide attention that it brought to the subject of the film is even more of a reward; it solidified her drive.
Sharmeen has also launched her own film production company, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Films, for which she has consciously chosen to hire a younger staff with no prior experience in filmmaking. She said, “I wanted it to be that way so they’re not set in their ways and they can learn newer, different ways of documenting that have not been used in Pakistan before,” she explains.
When asked if she faced barriers in Pakistan as a female director, Sharmeen responded that the mind-set of the people is the most challenging component of filming. While she was working in the Saraiki belt, an area characterized by high unemployment rates and low literacy, the people were wary of her and the team. Ms. Chinoy expressed that after spending substantial time on the ground and establishing relationships, we were able to gain the trust of a few brave subjects who wanted to speak out and create awareness. In fact, because I am a woman filmmaker I can easily work with female subjects. They welcome me into their homes and allow me to survey their lives – something essential before you start filming a subject. While working in Taliban territories I found that men resorted to treating me like a man because they were not used to seeing women in the given settings.
Sharmeen recommends “Iraq in Fragments” as the most powerful documentary as it effectively captures the consequence of war.
Angelina Jolie wrote her profile as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. From Diane Von Furstenberg to Kanye West, the world’s most influential people were invited to the gala. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy attended the event alongside Barbara Walters, legendary American journalist and TV personality.
While sharing her thoughts on what Oscar means for Pakistan’s image and stature abroad and what it actually means for her personality, she said:” I think that it’s important for Pakistanis to share their talent and skill with the rest of the world. I am proud to be representing Pakistan on such a prestigious platform and I hope that I am the first of many Pakistanis to do so. In terms of our image abroad, I think it will be interesting for people to see a different side of Pakistan, even if it is just for one night.”
Sharmeen makes documentaries on controversial issues on being asked how it is received in Pakistan and abroad she stated that as an investigative journalist, she feels that it is her duty to address issues that people do not want to discuss. She said “films have been received very well internationally and the feedback I receive has shown that people are grateful for the awareness and information. Unfortunately, due to contractual restraints I have been unable to show my films to large audiences in Pakistan.” She believes that the few screenings that she has held in educational capacities and to private audiences have resulted in similar responses to those of international audiences. There are pockets of people who feel that my work displays a negative image of Pakistan to the west, but she feels that it is important to address issues instead of running away from them, and that the first step is to accept that we have faults just like every other country.
Sharmeen maintains a perfect balance between her family and professional life, she revealed that she has been extremely lucky to have such a supportive family that has motivated her to work harder and never compromise her career. She said: “Were it not for them, I would never have reached where I am today. My daughter is my biggest inspiration; I want the Pakistan she inherits to be far better than the one I live in today. Motherhood has motivated me to work harder; I want to give Amelia a better Pakistan than the one she currently lives in.”
My advice to everyone always is that knock on every door. If you don’t get a reply, knock again. Till they open the door. You make your own destiny.
“I think I would never have been able to do the kind of work I have been able to do if I was a man. I have had many doors opened to me because very few women did the kind of work I did and I always use that to my advantage.”