The revival of the Pakistani film industry has been a term alarmingly repeated and anticipated. And in a world of exceptional film quality, it has been a rather rocky ride. In a very interesting panel discussion, filmmakers from Hollywood and Lollywood highlight the challenges and opportunities of the local film industry, and bring to light their opinions and technical knowledge on why the industry can’t seem to get out the crunch it has been in the past few years, despite thriving effort.

Academy Award winner Alix Madigan and Maria Bozzi from Film Independent, an NGO that provides support to independent filmmakers, Fizza Ali Meerza, ace producer of local blockbuster Load Wedding, Badar Ikram, producer Mah-e-Mir, Sultana Siddiqui, the president of a local channel and Nadeem Mandviwala, owner of Atrium Cinemas make the panel. Despite the presence of Hollywood filmmakers I see on the panel, the most intellectuality comes from local filmmakers, an unbiased eye would note.

The most predictable question is asked first: what are the primary hurdles to producing a feature film during the life cycle that particularly needs to be addressed?

Badar Ikram starts, “Making a movie in Pakistan is like getting a graduate degree. It is very difficult and people will discourage you at every stage. The problem of producing in Pakistan is two-fold; one is the craft side and the other is trade side.” Focusing on the trade side, the first problem is that we don’t have enough cinemas to cater to a population of our size. There are no cinemas in KPK and there’s one in Quetta, that’s straight up half the population without any access to screens and that’s a massive hit to the penetration level.

“In 2018, the revenue from Box Office was Rs. 4.6b which is a massive jump from Rs. 2.8b in 2017 of which 33 per cent came from Pakistani films.” Hence, the claim that Pakistani cinemas are supported by Bollywood films is debunked. The films deliver at the Box Office but our penetration into the audience needs to increase, to cater to the existing demand.

“Secondly, at policy level we need dialogue and plan of action on how to increase the quantum of locally made films from 18 a year to 60 in three years. The state needs to enable an environment where these filmmakers can raise funds and execute their creative ideas all the way to the finish line,” Badar finishes.

Directing the question to Fizza Ali Meerza, an independent filmmaker, moderator Jason Green asks the difficulties of producing a commercial film. “As an independent producer, we have our own problems but at the same time we are in the same market competing with films that are backed by channels and have skyrocketing budgets. Second, it is very difficult for a filmmaker to go on, promote and market a film here that is not owned by a channel unless they are signed as a distribution partner or co-producer or something of the kind because that brings in revenue for the channel as well, of outside the marketing budget. And if you buy slots with a channel to advertise your film, then the other channels does not promote your stuff.” In Fizza’s opinion, we have to leave aside personal disagreements and competition and focus to create a progressing industry where the accumulated effort can be seen in our films without restrictions on marketing strategies.

“Making a film for me is maybe easier than releasing it. Every time I’ve failed with a film is when I am about to release it despite my content or production being better. It fails due to weak distribution and also, we don’t have a package to offer our cinema owners since some of them also own distribution houses. An independent filmmakers cannot cope with a design and structure like this one, making the survival very uncertain,” adds Fizza.

Taking Nadeem Mandviwala’s opinion on what the future looks like from a cinema business owner point of view and how important it is for the development of a film? “For me, there is a much bigger problem than lack of cinema screens. There are multiple streams a filmmaker makes money from; DVD, satellite and more. In the U.S., many films don’t even go on the screen because they know they can make money without the tremendous cost of screening it. In Pakistan, a producer may have to sell his music or satellite rights and that, in my opinion, is the biggest problem and needs to be addressed.” Sultana Siddiqui chimes in, “Although it’s true that the government cannot do everything but it is all about the revival of cinema, and it is high time that the state accept this industry because every producer is a creative powerhouse and creates her/his own platforms but they and their work should be acknowledged. Through this, the youth will have the space to be more innovative and channel their creativity in a positive direction, something that the government and the stakeholders need to together.” With everyone’s concerns and hurdles coming in from all directions, the basic crux of the matter seems like lack of communication between producers and how the matters are not streamlined when it comes to pre-production, production and post-production stages. In the U.S. there are networks and platforms that bring the producers together, provide technical support and has standards in place that safeguard all the stakeholders. •