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After Sabeen: portrait of woman who wanted to ‘un-silence’ Pakistan

September 29, 2019
The documentary shows family, friends recounting her memories

Sabeen Mahmud believed in the freedom of expression and wanted to ‘un-silence’ Pakistan and talk about the things which people are scared of discussing in the country. On April 24, 2015, she was silenced forever.

Sabeen was shot dead on the streets of Karachi — the same streets that she fearlessly roamed around and called her home.

However, her death did not let her vision die. She created a safe haven for artists, writers, poets, activists, and thinkers with a community space, The Second Floor commonly known as T2F, where people can get an escape from the city.

Even four years after the horrific incident, she has not been forgotten. Friends and admirers of Sabeen gathered on Saturday morning at Karachi’s Capri Cinema to attend a screening of 'After Sabeen' — a documentary that portrays her bold personality through the eyes of her mother and close friends.

Director Schokofeh Kamiz from Germany followed Sabeen's mother and friends to record not only the accounts and memories of her, but also to create a portrait of the woman she did not know.

The film starts with Kamiz, sitting on a chair in front of a laptop, her head buried in her hands. She is looking at an interview of Sabeen, in which the T2F director says, “I’m often asked this question by journalists that aren’t you afraid. And I am not, I am not afraid.”

The director recounted the first time she heard about Sabeen. “My friend Omar and I wanted to have coffee on a Saturday, but he didn't show up. He called me and told me that a friend of his was shot dead in Karachi. I went with my friends to Omar's home. And we all talked for hours about Sabeen and during this conversation, my fascination with her grew,” she narrated.

“Sabeen was a person who did a lot and wanted to take everybody with her and help people as much as she could,” she said.

Kamiz then heard an interview of Sabeen’s mother, Mahenaz Mahmud, and was amazed by her strength. “This personality of a very strong woman who had just lost her daughter and spoke about her in such a lovely way left me fascinated and I told myself I had to do a film about these women.”

When asked how prepared she was while filming on such a sensitive topic, the director replied: “I knew that I was going to interview people who were very close to Sabeen and are still grieving.”

The filmmaker said it took her more than one month to prepare the questions, as she wanted to be very careful. “Once I had my questions, I knew that I would go along with just one camera,” she said.

Kamiz directed, shot and recorded the voice herself. She said the minimalistic filming technique was necessary to give the interviewees the intimacy that they needed.

“And I never pushed them to tell [me] something. I really wanted them to share their feelings with me,” she added.

The film was completed in two years and four months.

Mahenaz, Sabeen’s mother, said she kept seeing other sides of her daughter in the people she met after her death.

Mahenaz, who is not a very social person, said she was surprised how much she opened up with Kamiz.

“It was her [Kamiz’s] honesty that made me go along with the idea. She didn’t have a storyline or money, but I had an instant connection with her.”

The premiere was followed by a panel discussion. Journalist Zarrar Khuhro looked at the audience and said he could see Sabeen’s legacy in them. “I don’t think we have moved on [from her death],” he said.

Speaking to SAMAA Digital, Khuhro, said we should remember Sabeen the way she would have wanted to be remembered — not with ritualistic mourning once a year, but instead “we should remember her struggle, the voiceless people she spoke out for and the insane courage she displayed.”

Khuhro added: “The greatest form of remembrance is action, and it is through our actions that we should try and remember the woman that was Sabeen Mahmud.”

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After Sabeen, Sabeen Mahmud, portrait, woman, un-silence, Pakistan, documentary
 
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