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IDRC-supported documentary A Walnut Tree wins awards at Moscow and Istanbul film festivals

June 30, 2016

The IDRC-supported documentary A Walnut Tree, which follows the troubled lives of an internally displaced family in Pakistan, won the Grand Prix (best film award) at Moscow’s DOKer Film Festival in May, and the FIPRESCI Prize (International Federation of Film Critics) at the Istanbul Documentary Days festival in June. These awards join the film’s growing list of accolades, including the Ram Bahadur Trophy for best film at the Film Southasia festival in Kathmandu, and special jury recognition at the Festival dei Diritti Umani in Milan.

The documentary was supported by IDRC as part of the Justice Project in South Asia. Led by filmmaker Rahul Roy in New Delhi, the Justice Project uses film and research to raise awareness, inform public policy, and document the challenges involved in the struggle for justice in five South Asian countries that have experienced violent conflicts: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

“The justice project featured a unique coming together of filmmakers, researchers, and activists on a common research platform that created an opportunity for a synergy and influence that was reflected in each research paper and film produced,” says Roy. Thus far the project has generated 13 papers and five films that provide multiple perspectives related to conflict and justice.

A Walnut Tree follows the lives of Baba, an elderly poet and former teacher, and his family, who were forced to flee their home because of the ongoing conflict between the Pakistani army and the Taliban. The internally displaced family live in a makeshift shelter in the Jalozai settlement near Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, which was originally established as a camp for refugees fleeing the Afghanistan civil war in the 1980s. With their only income provided by Baba’s son, who sells balloons to support the family, they live in an uncertain present with a bleak outlook for the future. Numbed by the loss of leaving his home behind, Baba struggles between staying with his family in the relative security of the camp, or returning home — if anything is left of it.

Filmmaker Ammar Aziz says although the film has been screened widely in different parts of the world, including at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto in May, there have been only limited screenings in Pakistan. “Strategically, we wanted to gather international momentum for the film before screening it widely in Pakistan. There have been instances of threats to filmmakers and we wanted a safe passage through popular support,” he says.

With international recognition pouring in, Aziz hopes to open several channels of distribution in Pakistan. The film will be shown at a multi-city tour in the country, with a panel discussion about internally displaced persons following each screening. “We are working on using these screenings to move beyond relief,” says Aziz. “[We need to] get more attention on the long-term impact of displacement as a result of conflict, and the importance of reconnecting people to their roots as part of all rehabilitation work.”