Interview with film director Schokofeh Kamiz
"I was surprised she wasn't a bigger sensation"

In early 2015, Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud organised an event on missing Balochi activists in her cafe. Later that day, she was killed by two men on the streets of Karachi. The documentary film "After Sabeen" is a very personal portrait of the woman. Interview by Schayan Riaz

What prompted you to make a documentary about Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud?

Schokofeh Kamiz: The first time I heard of Sabeen, I was very surprised over the fact that she wasn’t a bigger sensation. She was just a normal woman, who walked through the streets, joked with everyone around her, but had touched so many people through her activism. I was fascinated with how she started small and then achieved a lot. She reminded me of a nail file, touching the nerves of different people. I just had to make sure that more people get to know her.

The film starts with you watching an interview of Sabeen. But after that you decide not to appear again. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Kamiz: At first I didn’t want to show myself at all. For me, "After Sabeen" is an observational film. I wanted to get to know the woman myself too. But my friends kept asking me, what exactly is drawing me towards her? After all, I’m an Iranian. So I thought, okay, I will show myself at the beginning and make sure why I’m tackling this subject and what I think of Sabeen. The scene is a sort-of prologue.

Filmmaking is a difficult undertaking the world over, but especially in a city like Karachi. Was it a challenge for you?

Kamiz: “After Sabeen” is a no-budget-film. I simply had no chance of getting any sort of funding. And even if I would have liked to, I wouldn’t have been in a position to pay my crew. So I flew to Pakistan with as little equipment as possible. I basically went with a Canon, an audio recorder and headphones. I wanted to attract as little attention as possible. Neither from the government, nor from people unknown to me. I had just given birth and couldn’t afford anything happening to me.

So how did you actually work in Karachi?

Kamiz: The minimalist set-up actually worked in my favour, because the interviews I conducted were all very intimate and the lack of equipment helped in that regard. Whatever was shot indoors felt free to me, because anything could be said freely. But shooting the outdoor portions of Karachi were trickier. Eventually I decided to shoot them from inside the car. And that was interesting for me, because Sabeen also loved driving around town. I got to see the city from her eyes, so to speak.

But why did you have to shoot the city from inside the car? Were you threatened at any point?

Kamiz: No, nothing of the sort happened. It was just a precautionary measure. Only once was I stopped by the army when I was driving in a rickshaw. I had my camera with me and the officer wanted to know why. The driver really saved me at that time, because he explained to the officer how I’m not from Pakistan and can’t even speak Urdu. My phone was confiscated and checked thoroughly, and only then did the officer realise that I really wasn’t from there. Luckily they didn’t take my camera, I already had several interviews saved on it.

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