Saving Face is about 40 minutes long, which is a bit more than I had bargained for when I originally sat down to watch it. Don’t worry husband, I said. It’s only a short, I said. We can watch something else when I’m done, I said. But after waiting for it to load and then watching through it, our night was spent, poor guy. Not poor me, on the other hand.
First of all, I will refresh your memory and say that documentaries are my passion. I am a videographer by trade and am pursuing a career in documentary editing. Instead of being more critical of documentaries, however, I can find little fault so far in the nominated films I have watched, Saving Face being among them, and very deserving of its win.
It was created by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and is about the ever growing pool of victims in Pakistan who suffer burn scars resulting from acid attacks. About 100 acid attacks are reported every year, and even more go unreported. Usually it is women who are attacked, and usually by someone they know, such as a father, uncle, husband, brother, or even, as one woman reported, a man who was refused her hand in marriage. Some women are attacked when they are children, many women are attacked while they are sleeping, and some are even attacked by their mother-in-law. They all have to live with scars that not only disfigure their faces, but “ruin their lives.” The longer the scars go untreated, the more painful and debilitating they can become.
Saving Face follows two main women, Zakia and Rukhsana. Zakia was being abused by her husband and when she went to seek a divorce from him, he stopped her outside the building and threw acid on her. The entire left side of her face, including her eye, is destroyed. She was so ashamed by it that she would not leave the house without covering her head and face completely–sunglasses and all. She had her husband sent to jail and took him to court.
Rukhsana’s story is devastating. Her husband threw acid on her, her sister-in-law threw gasoline on her, and her mother-in-law lit a match and set her on fire. When she left them, she could not support her children, and thus she was forced to make amends with them. In tears, she shows us how her family has built a brick wall (literally) between her and her children and she cannot see them any more.
Another plot line of the documentary follows Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a Pakistani plastic surgeon who practices in London, but comes back regularly after hearing about the acid attacks. He is equally devastated by the stories he hears from the women, and after speaking with Rukhsana he removes his glasses and covers his eyes. He is very literally saving the faces of these women by spending hours in the operating rooms helping restore a bit of what they once had so that they can continue to heal emotionally.
Their stories are terrifying as well as infuriating. Zakia is a strong example for her son and daughter, both of whom wear their love and respect for their mother clearly on their faces. Her son is grown and he walks with her almost everywhere she goes, and is with her as she prosecutes her ex-husband, who denies ever having thrown the acid.
There is justice and there is sadness in this documentary. It is very touching, and shows a glimpse into a culture you might not know much about. This of course does not define all of the Pakistani people, but it is an awful part of it that their government is working to correct.
I would definitely recommend that you watch this film. If you want to see some women kicking butt and being a strong example for their children, this is the documentary to watch.