Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gem of a documentary

The News, Feb 15, 2009


Gem of a documentary

By Omar R. Quraishi

Finally something to do worthwhile in Karachi with the arrival of Karafilm Festival, sorely missed because its organisers weren't able to hold it last year and the year before. Given the rigours of work and other pressing commitments, I wasn't quite able to do justice to the season pass that my wife had generously gifted me. However, there were some very good films I managed to see -- and as usual, almost all of them were documentaries.

The first one was a production for BBC Earth called Snow Leopard: Beyond the myth. It ran for 48 minutes and its production date is 2008 though much of the filming was done in 2005 because one of its protagonists, Nisar Malik, took time off from the filming to lead a for relief work after the October 2005 earthquake. The film chronicles Malik, who led the expedition, and British photographer Mark Smith's journey to Chitral (mistakenly mentioned at the beginning of the documentary of being located on the edge of the Himalayas. This is not true since the western edge of the Himalayas in Pakistan is the Nanga Parbat massif much further to the southeast) to film the legendary snow leopard.

Avid mountaineers and trekkers would surely know that the snow leopard, along with some other animals like the famed Marco Polo sheep (with its awe-inspiring horns), is a living legend in its own right and can be found, though in dwindling numbers, across the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Pamirs of Central Asia and Afghanistan and parts of the Himalayas. The expedition managed to find a female snow leopard along with a cub close to a road leading from Chitral and filmed it for much of that winter. However, once the snows melted away, they lost sight of the two for several months. They then tried their luck in some high-altitude pastures in the district. Here all they could find was a family of marmots. This part also made for some comic relief in the documentary, thanks to Mark Smith's jokes on the lack of mobility and general laziness of that particular marmot family.

The filming was followed by a question and answer session. A couple of good questions were asked. One came from a foreigner who asked Nisar Malik why the government of Pakistan or even a private sector Pakistani entity did not get involved in this project, which could be a good chance to promote Pakistan's positive image internationally. Something like this would also clear away Pakistan's popular image as a country overrun by bearded marauders beheading European engineers and blowing up girls' schools. Nisar replied -- and quite understandably so -- with some bitterness and told the questioner that this was a question that would be better answered by Pakistanis who are in some position of authority. When asked if the documentary would be released in Pakistan he said it would be aired on the Indian Discovery channel (dubbed in Hindi) because no Pakistani channel had shown any interest. It is disturbing because it was one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen and I have seen quite a few. Also, what could be more positive than an excellently made documentary on an animal found in Pakistan which is a source of much awe, legend and imagination in the whole of the world.

During the Q & A session, Nisar Malik also said something along the lines that he did not believe everything he said in the film. A pity that no one asked him what exactly these 'things' were. He said that Sir David Attenborough's -- the documentary's narrator -- had done more or less a voice-over and had not in fact accompanied the team to Chitral.

If Sherry Rehman is reading this, or if someone in her ministry is for that matter, they should give this documentary a close look -- dub it into Urdu and show it on PTV -- so that Pakistanis can know something worthwhile about their own country. If PTV is not interested, some of the private channels should consider it. And if they are wondering about corporate interest, it can be marketed in a manner that such interest could be generated.

For those interesting in the film, the available option is Internet. It can be found in six parts on the following link: And those who know about downloading shows through P2P (peer-to-peer) sites -- popularly known as torrents -- they can try downloading the torrent for the documentary at


The appointment of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles as Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan reminded me of the time when I read his name in a list of MI6 officers leaked on the Internet by a former British intelligence officer. Just to be sure, I went back to the link and found that Sir Sherard indeed was listed as an MI6 officer. The full entry, along with date and location of postings is as follows: Sherard Louis Cowper-Coles: dob 1955; 80 Cairo, 87 Washington, 97 Paris, 01 Tel Aviv, 03 Riyadh. In Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Sir Sherard served as Britain's ambassador. The list was not so recent because it did not include his time as British ambassador to Pakistan. Interestingly enough, the same site also listed the current British high commissioner to Pakistan, Robert Brinkley, as one of Her Majesty's ambassadors who happens to be a MI6 officer.

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email:


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