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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.”

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