Afia Nathaniel on Rugged Journey to Bring Pakistani Child Marriage Drama to Screen

“Dukhtar,” Afia Nathaniel’s feature debut, took 10 years to bring to the screen and a journey to one of the most hostile areas of the globe — Kashmir.

The disputed territory between India and Pakistan is marked by conflicts between insurgent groups and the two countries’ governments. But Nathaniel felt it was essential to set her story of a mother trying to save her 10-year-old daughter from an arranged marriage in that part of the world.

“It’s a different language, a different culture. You have bomb blasts happening,” she said.

Nathaniel endured everything from threats to sexism in order to bring the project to the screen, but it paid off with a world premiere Sept. 5 in Toronto, followed by a debut Sept. 18 in Pakistan. It is looking for distribution in the U.S. and other major territories.

“I’m the only woman on the set with 40 men and at times it was lonely, but then they’re my boys,” Nathaniel said. “The respect has to be earned whether you’re a woman or a male director and once you earn it, it’s unconditional.”

Nathaniel, who was born in Pakistan but lives in Brooklyn, cobbled together the financing for the low-budget drama from a variety of mostly nonprofit and foundational sources such as National Geographic and the Hubert Bals Fund.

“Dukhtar” tackles a difficult subject, but Nathaniel believes that directors need to broaden the scope of what constitutes entertainment.

“A film represents a nation’s conscience. Whether it’s good, bad, positive or ugly, opening a dialogue is my job as a filmmaker.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Woody Allen

    Woody Allen's 'A Rainy Day in New York' to Open Deauville Film Festival

    After being shelved by Amazon Studios in the U.S., Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” will be opening the 45th edition of the Deauville American Film Festival in France this fall. “A Rainy Day in New York,” which stars Timotheé Chalamet and Elle Fanning, will be the 8th film by Allen to play [...]

  • Phyllis Nagy

    Writers Guild Candidate Phyllis Nagy Warns of Risks to Residuals (EXCLUSIVE)

    Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West President David Goodman, has warned that guild leaders are endangering future residuals. Nagy, in a message posted Wednesday on her Writers Forward Together site, said residual payments are the most important issue the WGA faces during upcoming negotiations on a successor deal to the current master [...]

  • Geneva Wasserman

    Condé Nast Taps Film Veteran Geneva Wasserman as SVP of Motion Pictures

    Condé Nast Entertainment hired Geneva Wasserman as senior vice president of motion pictures, overseeing development of the media company’s slate of feature film properties. Wasserman, a nearly 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry, most recently served as co-founder and executive producer of production firm Project Z Entertainment. She takes over the role at CNE after [...]

  • Annabelle Wallis'The Loudest Voice' TV show

    James Wan's New Horror Film Casts 'Loudest Voice' Star Annabelle Wallis (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annabelle Wallis, who most recently appeared in Showtime’s Roger Ailes miniseries “The Loudest Voice,” has been tapped to star in James Wan’s top secret horror project, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie this fall before he jumps into prep on the “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details [...]

  • New York Festival Sets Documentaries on

    New York Film Festival Sets Documentaries on Merce Cunningham, Roy Cohn

    Films on Merce Cunningham, Roy Cohn and Oliver Sacks are among the notable titles set for the Spotlight on Documentary lineup at the 57th New York Film Festival. Alla Kovgan’s “Cunningham 3D” centers on dancer and choreographer Cunningham, who was at the forefront of American modern dance for half a century. The Cohn documentary “Bully. [...]

  • CineLink Work in Progress Provides Step

    CineLink Work in Progress Provides Step Onto International Stage

    The Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Work in Progress section has become a major venue for filmmakers from Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – this year it saw nearly 70 submissions, the most in the past decade. The competitive program boasts a large number of projects that have gone on to achieve major [...]

  • System Crasher

    Oscars: Germany Selects 'System Crasher' for International Feature Film Award

    Germany has chosen Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher” as its entry for the newly re-branded International Feature Film award at the 92nd Academy Awards, it was announced Wednesday by promotional body German Films. Produced by Kineo Filmproduktion and Weydemann Bros, the film won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, where it received its world premiere [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content