Ongoing Doctoral Research

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Cinema Itself: The Recording, Retrieval, and Resilience of Pakistani Film and Video in Lahore

My doctoral research began with the observation that, in the absence of a formal repository for the protection of Pakistani film, informal modes of film copying and distribution have allowed for the continued access of filmic artefacts and experiences relating to Pakistan’s past and present. That such a proliferation of copies should exist in the absence of a national film archive underlines both the extent of the country’s passionate love for films and institutional ambivalence and widespread reluctance to integrate film as part of the country as a national, religious, and political idea. The ease with which the material ephemera of film in Pakistan are discarded by their producers, directors, and actors is striking, but pales in comparison to examples of anti-film discourse: religious polemics, prejudice towards film work, legal cases, and violent demonstrations.

Conducted through 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Lahore, Pakistan I took Lahore’s Hall Road – one of Asia’s largest electronics markets and a commodity zone long famous for its traders’ ongoing repertoire of Pakistani films in copy – as a point of transit to explore the acts of recording and retrieval that became central activities in the era of home audio and video. I examine the archival urges and archival absences in Pakistan’s national bureaucracy, as well as its counterpoints in the small collections of cinephiles, as well as religious shops that maintain a standing reserve of moving image materials and master-copies for later use. While film media continues to be a source of religious anxiety for many, a great many genres of religious media circulate on the same networks and formats created and popularised by the informal distribution of Pakistani film. To understand the assertion of guardianship and ownership through the circulation, recording, and retrieval of moving image media my research explores attitudes towards heritage, the bifurcation of the film industry into separate physical and economic spheres, the impact of Gulf migration, proselytization through moving image media, and the disputed epistemology and ontology of film.

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