Global filmmaker, journalist and social activist

Born in Karachi in 1978, Sharmeen has arguably become one of the most articulate global story-tellers of her generation. Her film work aims at bringing attention to issues that societies find deeply uncomfortable to acknowledge, and then telling stories in ways that are compelling enough to impact on the underlying social and human distress. The jury selected Sharmeen because of her increasingly insistent and effective leadership not just in changing minds, but in addressing the facts that create outcomes that should be unacceptable in the 21st century.Sharmeen’s filmography is extensive; since 2000 she has made more than a dozen multi-award winning films in over 10 countries. Among her films are Saving Face (2012), A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers (2015) and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015).The impact of her films has been widely recognized by her peers, including by the awarding of two Academy Awards.

A Tällberg conversation, September 2018

Why do you do what you do?
I remember the first time that I felt that I had a voice was when I was in the Philippines and I was making a film about illegal abortions because of the Catholic Church, the access to contraceptives to women was limited, and so women were having 5, 6, 7 children. To avoid that, they were jumping out of buildings, they were using all kinds of unsafe abortion methods. I had made this film going on the ground in the Philippine’s and when the film was coming out, all of the rights activists said that this could be the perfect piece of film to convince the politicians that they must give access to contraceptives, otherwise, look at what happens to women. We had filmed an illegal and unsafe abortion in that film.
That’s when I really realized that I don’t just make films, I can actually make films that can change the way that people look at an issue. It can influence the way people lobby for that issue.
How do you choose your issues?
For me, it’s about the issues that people find deeply uncomfortable, that they don’t want to talk about. That people are afraid to talk about because of the backlash, because of unearthing something that will stir society in some way. Those are the issues that I want to talk about. Those are the men, women and children on who I want to shed the light on.When I’m thinking about what is the film, what is the issue, what is the topic; I’m looking at what is happening in a society and I’m looking at why people are not talking about those issues. When I made Saving Face, for example, acid violence, it’s not that people didn’t know about acid violence in Pakistan, people knew about it. People didn’t want to talk about it, because by talking about it they would acknowledge that this horrific thing was happening in their society and they were allowing it to happen.I like to hold up a mirror to society and I want people to look at their reflection. DO you like what you see? If you don’t like what you see, what are you doing about it?I think that that’s for me, when I choose a topic it has to make people deeply uncomfortable and by doing so forcing them to do something about it.
What is the key to your ability to tell great stories?
If you have empathy and you have compassion, then it doesn’t matter whether you know how to make a film or not. It’s not about a camera that you have. It’s not about whether it’s going to go out to the top television channel in the world. It’s about the story and how you tell it, and the people and how much they allow you in the inner sanctum. You have to understand that people tell you their deepest darkest secrets. These are things that they’ve never told anyone, including themselves, sometimes. You have to become that person for them to be able for them to trust you.
What does the Eliasson Global Leadership Prize mean to you?
This award makes me realize that I have been using film to effect change beyond the television and beyond the cinema. Maybe it will make other filmmakers realize that our craft is something that exemplifies leadership if we choose to tell stories in that particular way that I have been fortunate enough to tell.

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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's Bio

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a Karachi-based journalist and filmmaker whose reports led to legislative changes in Pakistan. She is the only female director to have been awarded two Academy Awards by the age of 37.  Since 2001, she has made over two dozen multi award films in over 16 countries around the world. Her films include Student Athlete,Girl in the river, Song of Lahore, Saving Face, Peace Keepers and Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret.

Her documentaries, which have won two Oscars, tackle abuse of women and children. Her “Frontline” documentary, “Children of the Taliban,” told of Pakistani boys who were groomed in Taliban-run schools to carry out attacks against civilians.

“Saving Face” focused on acid attacks on women. The film prompted Pakistan’s most populous province to process these cases through anti-terrorism courts to ensure speedier justice.

“A Girl in the River” explored an attempted “honor killing” of a young woman who married a man her family had not chosen. The film drew attention to a loophole which allowed these murders to go unpunished. Pakistan’s parliament then passed a law criminalizing honor killings.

In 2015, Sharmeen launched a mobile cinema in Pakistan, which travels across the country, screening films in small towns and villages and engaging the youth in meaningful conversations around women rights, religious diversity and tolerance.

Obaid-Chinoy also helped found the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that fosters and promotes community-wide interest in the culture and history of Pakistan. Citizens Archive works with thousands of children, teaching critical thinking skills and instilling a sense of pride about their history and identity.

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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has teamed up with NBL star LeBron James for a new venture, Student Athlete.

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