It all started with an innocuous Skype call to brainstorm Final Year Project ideas. But when four then-final-year students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information jokingly suggested the idea of documenting Pakistan, never in their wildest dreams did they expect their eventual efforts to reach the lights of New York City.
Since its release in June, Lahore Landing, an interactive documentary, has been featured in the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, and also at the Made in New York Media Center for its first offline public exhibition. It was also showcased in film festivals, such as the 58th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film in Germany.
Additionally, it has been entered in the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling, where it will be pitted against works by experienced names such as artist Jonathan Harris in November.
Lahore Landing aims to show a Pakistan that is beyond the typical labels of extremism, political instability and terrorism. The interactive documentary portrays a nation that possesses a rich culture and heritage, and how its people actively use these aspects of their lives to fight the negative forces that perpetuate the current image of the country.
“Terrorism is like a barrier, and culture is the bridge we are using to disprove this barrier in Pakistan,” said Jeremy Ho, 25, who is part of the Lahore Landing team, along with Taahira Booya, 23, Jemimah Seow, 23, and Andre He, 27 (all CS‘15).
The team had originally intended to pursue a travel documentary, but this direction changed abruptly after the Peshawar school massacre on Dec. 16, 2014, where 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren, were killed by militants. The team attended the mourning vigil and realised that the Pakistanis were using culture and arts as “tools” to fight extremism.
VIDEO COURTESY OF LAHORE LANDING TEAM/VIMEO
In Lahore Landing, there are three protagonists: a school professor who fronts a rock band; a student who conducts guided tours in Lahore’s Old City; and a student cum social activist — all of whom are passionate about fighting the one-sided images and labels of Pakistan.
In an interview with Seow and Ho, the latter shared their challenges of spending two months away from the comforts of home. Due to power shortage issues, the Pakistani government mandates scheduled blackouts, called load shedding, for a few hours throughout the day.
“When we first reached Lahore, we didn’t know the schedule, so when it happened we were shocked,” said Ho. The team initially struggled to cope with the electrical limitations, but adjusted accordingly and charged their cell phones, laptops and electronic devices at certain timings.
Hygiene was also an issue for them. All four of them endured food poisoning at some point during the two months. Seow suffered two bouts, and was even put on an intravenous drip at the hospital.
Overcoming these obstacles was made easier through the support from their family back home, despite initial anxiety from their parents.
What helped most was Taahira's experience and contacts in the foreign city. Taahira had been in Karachi, Pakistan for six months for her professional internship with Pakistani newspaper DAWN. Having someone confident on the ground sealed the deal for the team to do a project in Pakistan.
“She has experienced Pakistani life, as well as having friends and contacts there,” said Seow, adding that their parents were hugely supportive and not “overly paranoid.”
They also cited teachers in WKWSCI as being great mentors throughout their undergraduate life. Seow and Ho highlighted Nikki Draper as a “very good voice of reason” for their FYP. Peers and seniors were also a driving motivation behind the team’s ambitions.
Despite the project’s fair share of fame, Seow and Ho remain modest about how their project has fared. After tracking the Facebook likes on their page, they concluded that majority of the viewership is from Pakistan, followed by Singapore; only a small percentage comes from western countries like the U.S.
“The word is not out there enough,” said Seow. The team wants their documentary to attract viewers to travel and get a first-hand experience of life in Pakistan, to “bring over their own perceptions and compare it with the reality there.”
Undaunted, the team has been working hard to further promote Lahore Landing by submitting it to film festivals in different countries.
Their quest for advocacy may be tough, but Ho draws encouragement from viewers around the world.
“Some Romanian (person) emailed us and thanked us for the documentary. We were really happy with that; you never know what could spear this whole project out,” he said, with a smile.