UW Symposium | Perween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist


UW Bothell Symposium
Room: DISC 252
8:45am – 1:00pm

10:00 am – 11:15 am:  Perween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist
15 min Break
11:30 am: Freedom of Expression and Documentary Filmmaking in South Asia

The panel will explore the role played by filmmakers in South Asia at a time when freedom of expression in the region – constitutionally guaranteed as a fundamental right – in increasingly threatened by a plethora of state and non-state actors. Over the past two decades, a growing number of artists have been exiled or killed, books and films banned, vigilante mobocracy encouraged, press manipulated, the Internet throttled, minority people lynched, and women’s freedom severally curtailed. Given the increasing intersection of our lives by social media, people of different ideological or religious persuasions terrorize dissenting voices: right wing ideologues get offended and the state regards them as seditious and anti-national. As a result, journalists, students, professors, bloggers and human rights activists are threatened, arrested, shot or hacked to death.

At a time like this, what role do filmmakers play to be ensure this right? While filmmaking as a form of art is protected by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can filmmakers in South Asia exercise this right freely? And if so, what strategies can they adopt in exposing rights violations in the region? Further, is free speech fundamental or absolutist? Should there be regulation on free speech? A panel of filmmakers, academics and members of the community come together in this symposium to deliberate on these issues.

This symposium is organized in collaboration with the South Asia Center at the University of Washington Seattle and Bothell.

Poster Perween_Rahman_-_The_Rebel_Optimist

PERWEEN RAHMAN: The Rebel Optimist – An architect and urban planner, Perween Rahman dedicated her life for the poor of Pakistan. She was shot dead by armed assailants on her way home in March 2013.

Film Description

Photo 2 rickshaw_in_orangi
Perween Rahman: The Rebel Optimist

67 mins || Urdu || Pakistan || 2016

“No one is safe in this city. Those who think otherwise are living in a fool’s paradise,” says Perween’s best friend and colleague Anwar Rashid as he navigates the chaotic roads of Karachi. An architect and urban planner, Perween Rahman dedicated her life for the poor of Pakistan. She was shot dead by armed assailants on her way home in March 2013.

When she joined the Karachi based Orangi Pilot Project, founded by Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, Orangi’s lanes were full of filth and choking gutters. Back in the early 80s, the people of Orangi, most of them migrants from India and Bangladesh, were taking their own steps to improve sanitation. Dr. Khan assigned Perween the task of developing a low cost sanitation model for Orangi.

Perween’s pioneering work in Orangi led her on a collision course with the various mafias in the city. She surveyed the water supply to Karachi and pinpointed locations from where water is being stolen from the bulk supply lines. She mapped and documented Karachi’s informal settlements to provide the poor security against land grabbers. Perween had an alternate vision for the development of Karachi. “Development doesn’t come from concrete. Development is not five star hotels and mega road projects. What we need is human development.”

Headshot Mahera_Omar
Director's Bio

Mahera Omar explores social, urban and environmental issues in Pakistan through her documentary filmmaking, including the development of Karachi, education projects in Hunza and Shigar, and adventure travel filming. Her documentary Sea Turtles, produced for Geo Television, won the 22nd Genesis Award in the Brigitte Bardot International Category. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and veterinarians are the superheroes in her book.

Press & Awards
  • Pakistan International Film Festival

Karachi, Pakistan || March 29, 2018 || Best Documentary Feature

  • Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival

Kathmandu, Nepal || March 7, 2018 || Special Jury Mention Award