plish: putting you in touch with films that do things other media can't or won't, in the process offering up the truth of our world (part of it, at least) in a manner you'll not find elsewhere. Just such a film is making its New York debut with two screenings during MoMA's Documentary Fortnight (February 18 at 8pm in MoMA's Titus 1 theater and February 19 at 4pm in Titus 2). If you want to discover Pakistan, the Taliban, movie-making, hypocrisy, sex (homo & hetero) and death (real & fake) in a combination that I wager you will have not previously come even close to, then line up for THE MISCREANTS OF TALIWOOD from Australian filmmaker George Gittoes (shown below).
Gittoes is a 60-year-old artist/activist who tends to put himself in harm's way by going to the world's current "action" spots to make his films: the 2005 Soundtrack to War (war-torn Iraq) and the 2006 Rampage, filmed in the dangerous projects of Miami, during which the brother of the film's main character was killed. Because, in the Peshawar area of Pakistan (especially the tribal belt, that region called the Northwest frontier that is completely outside the control of the Pakistani government), a foreigner, particularly anyone thought to be an American, can easily be shot on sight, Mr. Gittoes' looks probably saved his life. With long, flowing gray hair and wearing Pakistani clothing, he fits right in, no questions asked. Once the men in charge meet him, so gregarious is he (and Australian rather than American) that they take to him immediately.
Zachary Oberzan or Jonathan Caouette might stick up his nose).
In any case, while these movies may not be "Art," they serve multiple purposes: entertaining the masses (most of whom are illiterate and don't have good television reception but can afford the price of $15 to buy a DVD player to watch straight-to-video Pakistani films in their own language) and providing lots of jobs that help feed families and pay for shelter.
lar: Kirin and NoNo, the former's story is haunting and sad, while the latter's is... hmmmm, different. She's a popular sin-
ger, comedian and dancer, who occasion-
ally makes a sex film, a scene from one of which is leaked via cell phone to much appreciation from her countrymen and considerably less from the Taliban. So NoNo goes into hiding.
You probably didn't know that midgets (or little people) are very big in Pakistani films. We meet two of them here (shown below), as well as a pro-Taliban political figure, Maulana Gul Naseeb, Senator of the MMA party, from whom hypocrisy fairly oozes. The funniest scene occurs as George must shoot his documentary and fiction films simultaneously, which confuses his crew something fierce. Which is which? They continually mix things up.
Benazir Bhutto is killed, and from this point on the film grows increasingly dark-unto-grizzly. A mosque is bombed (below) and, in an amphitheater, we watch as a 12-year-old boy beheads a prisoner of the Taliban, taking three minutes to do it while showing not a trace of compassion or humanity. Simple beheading of prisoners, which has been going on for awhile, is failing any longer to bring in the crowds. Something new must be provided: hence the use of children as executioners.
Gomorrah, not to mention countless narratives and documentaries about Iraq, comparisons are apt.
To derive the best interview possible from this most interesting filmmaker, TrustMovies first sent George Gittoes a list of questions by email, and then spoke to him via Skype (the means for good, cheap verbal communication). The following is a combination of the two, with TrustMovies in boldface and Gittoes in standard type.
How did you get involved in the film?
art and my photos, and then I do my films. One of the creative things I do is to invent my own aid stuff: like bringing attention to land mines in various countries. For instance, I went up into hills of Afghanistan, and the tribal chiefs there loved it because it brought some attention to the "mines" problem and the world then showed some interest in that area. I put on a huge show in Geneva, too, and started getting money to help with prosthetics clinics. And I'm still involved with those same groups. But now I'm concerning myself with bigger issues. While making Miscreants, I got involved in a self-help program for poor people to get into hospitals, and for young women who are poor to get scholarships. I got involved with cricketers to put up money for girls in Pakistan to go to school. I convinced Oxfam to fund things there, too. It's kind of combining creative work with aid work. I am tired of how most Non Government Organizations (NGOs) waste money on more administrative costs than on helping the people they're supposed to help. So basically I have helped create some new NGOs in the Tribal Belt, the region called the NW frontier, which is completely ungoverned and outside the control of Pakistani government. I've been doing this kind of thing now for more than 20 years. I began it in New York in late 1968-69. Andy Warhol was first person who introduced me to a movie camera. And art critic Clement Greenberg first encourage me to get involved. The sense of what was going on in the streets back then made me go outside and use my camera and my drawing talent along side of what was happening in the world -- and then connect these.
The idea of creativity vs fundamentalism (of any kind) seems more and more important these days. Yet the "creativity" on display in the Paki/Taliwood movies seems almost farcical. Yet it is creativity. And the distance between artists having the right to say something and the worth of what they are saying makes for an interesting tension, at least in the first part of your movie. It reminded me of why we must stick up for free speech, even if we don't agree with what's being spoken. In the Pakistan films that you saw while there, did you notice any major variation in quality? Might there be a budding "great" filmmaker on the Pakistani scene?
The Pashtun films you see in my movie are sections chosen for their impact. There are a lot of family dramas and comedies that are more sober but would not have much colour when taken out of context. However, the films are made for the most uneducated people in the world. There is considered to only be 2% literacy in the tribal belt and it is lower for girls. This means they can not even read their own language. The only form of input they are getting is from these films and radio. They can not develop narrative appreciation through books. The films, therefore, have a melodramatic quality and in many ways resemble silent films. They have to be read visually and an over developed or intellectual script would be over most of their heads, even in their own language. The films do, however, introduce new ideas, such as the liberation of women and their right to be seen. This may seem a small thing but it is very crucial for more than half the population .
It has really pissed me off when various reviewers have said that they can agree with the Taliban in stopping these films because they seem so bad . This is incredible snobbery and could only be said by people living in very safe and comfortable societies .
The actors and directors are not from the educated classes either. But there was a real hope for them to create great films in the future because of the volume of films they were churning out . They were constantly learning and improving on the job, up to the point that the industry was stopped by the Taliban. None of them have been to actor- or training-schools .
The intellectuals at Peshawar University totally support these working class film makers and often agree to act in the dramas and help improve the scripts. This is a healthy relationship that could lead to collaborations of significant value because the intellectuals are learning on the job as well.
I have been spending my time in Europe trying to get organisations to agree to put money into the Tribal Film Industry. I have succeeded in getting Oxfam to fund the restarting of the local Pasktun film industry by proposing to fund nine of these films each year and let the profits from them go back to the artists. The Oxfam-funded films will take away the 'grind house' necessity to make the kind of films they have done in the past. I will help get this project up and running and will encourage the directors and writers to use this opportunity to make dramas that depend less on big action scenes etc. But I will not try to realize my creative visions through them.
Please also note that when people are illiterate they can not get much sense out of foreign films with subtitles, so even Indian films are useless to them. This industry has come about because DVD players have become so cheap -- down to less than $15 US for a player. Each poor village can afford a player and a Monitor and so the movies are shown to fairly large audiences and the discs are swapped around. If you could see the mud hut poverty the films are shown in, you would be shocked. These are places where there is no running water and power only comes from generators: little health care and a lot of starvation .
What was it like for you to be "acting" in a movie, rather than creating a documentary? Was it fun -- or more of an effort? Are we going to get the chance to see the actual movie you made?
I would also like to make another doc and drama with some of them in Afghanistan. I will call both films Scarface in Kabul.
I originally intended to try to release the second drama 'Fire' (the comedy is too local to work outside Pakistan) at the same time as 'Miscreants'. This aim resulted in my spending a couple of weeks getting all the actors to dub their speaking roles into English: a huge challenge because none of them spoke any English so they had to imitate the sound of what I was saying . They did a good job and were proud of it (you can hear a bit of it in the doc -- like when Javed and Kirin are together after he gets wounded ). I would still like to do this but do not have the money to do the post-production work that is needed to do the job. I calculate it would cost at least $30,000 to make a release copy . I just do not have that. I am really broke, as the film has not found a distirbutor and has no TV or Cable sales outside Australia (except Poland and that is a small amound) . I put up the money for the project so I am really hurting financially on this and would have no hope of paying to do the necessary work to get it out. It is a shame. Maybe someday.... It would be great if some rich person said, "Hey George-- let me fund this!
Most documentarians don't try to play with the form at all. My film tries to do this -- so that it can work for the MTV generation. The fact that I’ve used two cameras -- always -- means that you get this "in and around" thing. When I got to Kirin’s house, you see me drop the camera and laugh, I say “I think there’s more to this than just finding an actress for the movies.” This would not work with just one camera and one point of view. You need that other, broader point of view. Wherever I go I arrive with two or three cameras, but no crew. Instead, I find someone I can teach to use the other camera. I couldn’t take another foreigner there because he’d be killed, probably within the day. I speak the language, I’ve got the long hair, I know the walk, the gait, the manner. You can’t be in Western clothes.
Your PLANET OF THE MEN section was particularly interesting to me as a gay/bisexual man. It raises all sort of interesting questions about nature vs nurture. Clearly, as in all cultures, there would be a certain minority of guys who lean toward their same sex. But with so many men engaging in homosexuality (as the easier alternative), it becomes almost like what the right wing over here accuses gays of doing: recruiting "straights" to the "gay" side. Yet this is what the Taliban is forcing on its own culture: Very hypocritical (but then so much engaged in by the powerful in all cultures is hypocritical). Did you have any further thoughts about all this that did not make the cut in your film?
I think this is the one section in the film that Broadcasters are most frightened of. It is the other side of the problem of women not having any freedom. While people like me have spent their lives fighting for gay rights and better understanding of gays it is still important to show the issues in the tribal belt of Pakistan are very different . I think all men there enjoy bi-sexual sex . Most say they prefer 'hard bodies' and by the time they get to be with a woman they have lost the taste for 'soft bodies.' I only have one friend there who says he does not like sex with other men. This is Javed, and I think this is because, as an actor, he has often felt -- well, we might call it 'undue pressure,' as the male actors are expected to sell themselves, just as the women are. As I say in my movie, it is great to be a man there. I enjoy all the spontaneous kisses and hugs and massage etc. I wish all men could be as warm and open and physically affectionate towards each other as are these men of the Tribal Belt.
You actually paid the $4,000 to bankroll the movie we see being made? Or did you bankroll two of them for $7,000? (Is this tax deductible as a charitable donation? It should be!)
I paid $4,000 and $3,000. I am a poor artist, but I did pay this out of my own money and this was only the basic budget. I paid out a lot more for catering and hotels and vehicles etc plus better quality live music etc. Why this next project is so workable for OXFAM is that they can fund nine films for just $38,000 and this will keep hundreds of people in work and they will then be able to feed their families, so it is better than just arriving with truck loads of food etc. It also means some joy can come into the lives of the broader population through the entertainment the movies provide.
I just do stuff and struggle along. Usually I fund what I am doing through the sale of my paintings rather than film returns but it is a struggle. I do not make enough money to pay much tax so the deduction principle is not a factor.
Yes, I have a copy of the Sufi birth certificate . His father was a famous sufi -- not as big as the Dalai Lama, but up there. The birth of his son is, therefore, a part of historic record . The old sufi is so loved there will be a shrine and mosque built around him when he dies and he will achieve sainthood. He is already regarded as a saint. I have not heard of his death (and I would), so he must be pushing 117 by now. I hope to spend some time with him when I go back in a few months. I love him dearly and we have a very special friendship that has nothing to do with Sufism or anything. We just love each other.
How do you spell the name of the actress Kireen (or Kiren, shown below)?
Her name is Kirin. She is not to be confused with NoNo who gets into trouble over the porn. Kirin would be phonetic; it could just be spelled as it sounds: whether Kiren or Kirin does not matter. She took the money she got from working on my film and went to Lahore, where it is safer. About 5 female dancers and actresses that I knew in Peshawar have now been murdered. I think Kirin may have gotten some work in the Lahore Industry, which is still semi functional (it is not part of the Tribal Belt where film is totally outlawed).
NoNo escaped and made an underground Music CD which really infuriated the Taliban because it was so popular. NoNo remains a good friend, so I am hoping to visit her in hiding, wherever she is. She has a great sense of humour, and we had some really funny times together. I would have to play her father whenever she needed to get out of a car to go to a restroom or something. Women cannot go anywhere unless accompanied by a venerable male relative. I felt I was really 'integrated' when doing this. But one thing I should tell you about NoNo: She is from a long line of hookers. Her pimp is her mother. They are the top grade girls -- actresses, dancers, and the like. When her little scene of sucking off got out on the internet, this should not have happened. She would never have said yes to doing it if she’d known this. She was so angry when the Taliban threatened her with a jihad that she retaliated by putting out a CD of her song hits, and virtually everyone in Pakistan was listening to her songs. Her family was protecting her within the compound, where she was safe. Then one of the members of her own family was gotten to by the Taliban, and he came in and tried to kill her. She was stabbed twice but was able to fight him off very well, and other family members came to her aid. But now, after this, she feels not safe enough to continue he work. She knows she no longer has security, even within her own family.
Your film grows increasingly dark as it moves along (which is understandable). Instead of saving the best for the last, you've saved the worst. Your final words about a theater of terror, "a world where no one knows who's leading us into war, why we're going there, or if anyone has any vision of why we're doing it" reminded me of the film Gomorrah - with the Taliban taking the place of the mobsters. As in both cultures, there seems to have been an almost complete collapse of the Social Contract. (With the Taliban, it's more like: You do this for us now, and you'll have a great afterlife -- which, like almost all religions, is the ultimate con game.) Any thoughts on how and when the Pakistani people will get their day in the sun?
I am much more worried about Pakistan drawing the world into a cataclysmic conflict of World War III-scale than I am about Afghanistan doing the same thing. It is a huge worry. I wish some decision-makers in the US and Europe would have the time to see Miscreants and ask me to bring some enlightened individuals from places like Peshawar University to some kind of think tank, so the problems could be looked at and possible solutions found. I am doing as much as I can. I have also helped create a scholarship scheme to get brilliant young women through University when they are from poor families that can not afford the fees, etc.
Several of Mr. Gittoes' films are now available via download at the following links: SOUNDTRACK TO WAR : http://mubi.com/films/33089
THE MISCREANTS OF TALLIWOOD : http://mubi.com/films/20628