Every year in Pakistan, many people – the majority of them women – are known to be victimized by brutal acid attacks, while numerous other cases go unreported. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred, and many reported assailants, typically a husband or someone else close to the victim, are let go with minimal punishment from the state.
Recently nominated for a Best Documentary Short Oscar®, SAVING FACE chronicles the arduous attempts of acid-attack survivors Zakia and Rukhsana to bring their assailants to justice, and follows the charitable work of Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon who strives to help them go beyond this horrific act and move on with their lives.
Directed by Oscar® and Emmy® nominee Daniel Junge and Emmy®-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, SAVING FACE debuts THURSDAY, MARCH 8 (8:30-9:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Debuting during International Women’s Month, SAVING FACE highlights the increasingly common practice of acid violence in Southeast Asia. Throwing acid onto faces and bodies is a form of domestic violence often used as revenge for refusal of sexual advances or proposals of marriage.
An intimate look inside Pakistani society, the film tells the stories of two courageous women: 39-year-old Zakia, whose husband threw acid on her after she filed for divorce, and Rukhsana, a 25-year-old whose husband and in-laws threw acid and gasoline on her, then set her on fire. With help from The Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad, as well as skilled doctors and sympathetic policymakers, they try to move forward with their lives, despite trauma and enduring pain. SAVING FACE also spotlights London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who puts his successful practice on hold and returns to his home country to volunteer his skills and assist Zakia, Rukhsana and other victims of what he calls his society’s “disease.”
The documentary also follows the push to enact new legislation that imposes stricter sentencing of perpetrators of acid attacks. Zakia’s husband is convicted of the assault and given two life sentences, becoming the first person to be sentenced under Pakistan’s stronger new law. Dr. Jawad helps reconstruct her deformed face, and with a prosthesis covering half of it, she finally feels comfortable walking through the streets of Pakistan without wearing a burka.
Rukhsana, however, still lives with her husband and his family, who attacked her, because she is unable to support her children on her own. Before Dr. Jawad can operate on her face, Rukhsana learns that she is pregnant, delaying the surgery. In a heartbreaking moment, Rukhsana confides that she hopes her child will be a boy “because a girl’s future gets risky after marriage.”
Rukhsana does give birth to a boy, who brings happiness and purpose back to her life, and Dr. Jawad plans to operate on her in the future. But for each woman who is able to have facial reconstruction surgery, or finds solace in a loving family or in communities of survivors, there are myriads whose voices are never heard, described by Rukhsana as “the living dead.”
Implores Rukhsana, “My fellow countrymen, my lawmakers, my government – your daughters seek justice from you.”
Daniel Junge’s credits include “Chiefs” (Best Documentary, 2002 Tribeca Film Festival) and the HBO documentaries “They Killed Sister Dorothy” (Emmy® nominee) and “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner” (Oscar® nominee). Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was the first Pakistani woman to win an Emmy®, for “Pakistan’s Taliban Generation,” and was also a recipient of the Alfred I. duPont Award and the Overseas Press Club Award.
SAVING FACE is directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; produced by Davis Coombe, Daniel Junge, Alison Greenberg, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Sabiha Sumar; edited by Davis Coombe and Hemal Trivedi; original music by Gunnard Doboze; featuring original vocals by Kiran Ahluwalia. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.