Cary McClelland WITHOUT SHEPHERDS Director Interview
Documentary Feature Competition
Six bold people navigate the dangerous waters of Pakistan’s current crisis to discover a new tomorrow: a cricket star starts a progressive political party, a female journalist goes behind Taliban lines, an ex-mujahid seeks redemption, a trucker crosses dangerous territory to feed his family, a supermodel pushes feminism through fashion, and a subversive Sufi rocker uses music to heal. Filmed by a team of Americans and Pakistanis over two years, WITHOUT SHEPHERDS is a portrait of a wildly misunderstood nation, a film that cuts through alarmist media depictions to celebrate the brave modernity of its people.
Fri, 4/12 2:15 PM
Sun, 4/14 6:15 PM
SFF 2013: What drew you to painting this elegant portrait of life in Pakistan during this devastating crisis?
CARY MCCLELLAND: I didn't know what to do with myself after September 11th. As an artist in a country facing two wars, I felt pretty peripheral to everything I read about in the papers -- and ignorant. I felt like I didn't know enough sitting comfortably in New York to make much of a contribution. So I took a pretty radical turn, left a career in the theatre, and dove into international conflict resolution work and human rights advocacy. My career took me around the world, from the DR Congo to Zimbabwe, Egypt to East Timor, and eventually to Pakistan.
The country I met was anything but what was depicted in the news. Sure, there was political corruption and civil violence, but much of those dramas were isolated to the capital and the Afghan border. The rest of the country was left to the people of Pakistan -- families, moderates, poets, students, all deeply yearning to turn their country in a new direction so they could thrive. WITHOUT SHEPHERDS grew out of my unease with the dominant, fear-based image of Pakistan. Our hope is to inject some real empathy, humanity, and hope into the way Pakistan is seen in the world at large. From there, we believe change in our collective policy and political action is possible.
SFF 2013: How did the man who is largely the heart of the film, this suffering truck driver, come to your attention?
CARY MCCLELLAND: The instinct to cover a truck driver was one of our earliest impulses. We wanted an Everyman, an Odysseus character whose journey could take us anywhere we needed to be across the country. We kept visiting this one truck station in Lahore to search for subjects. We maybe interviewed 20 different truckers, and traveled with three. But Abdullah's humor, wisdom and heart stood out. We've been grateful for his presence even from thousands of miles away, over the past two years of editing. We have hours and hours of interview material that has kept us fascinated, in stitches, or in tears. As the years passed while we worked to complete the film, I think we all started to feel a little bit like Abdullah, putting one foot in front of the other, and trusting it would get us where we needed to be.
SFF 2013: Tell us about your view that change will need to come from within Pakistan itself.
CARY MCCLELLAND: Pakistan faces something like a perfect storm of pressures right now. The education system has fallen apart and been replaced by religious institutions. This has made recruitment into transnational militant groups all the easier for young, motivated youth interested in making a better world but confused where to begin. The economy struggles, basic services (health care, power, water) are unreliable, and tensions with India, Afghanistan and America have driven the government into a defensive and secretive posture with the outside world. It does not help that there are few outlets for the Pakistani people themselves to make a difference.
And WITHOUT SHEPHERDS essentially chronicles six different ways people are trying to DIY social change: that might mean starting a political movement, giving your children a brighter future, or personally coming to terms with the mistakes of your past. Pakistan needs the government to be more responsive to the people's will (and not the appetites of a feudal elite). It needs time for communities to build institutions that can make a lasting impact, and it needs an education system that can support long term development. Most of this work needs to come from within, but some can come from a realignment of our own priorities as Americans -- where we focus our energy less on short-term security interests and instead work towards long-term national and regional stability.
SFF 2013: Did you face any obstacles during the making of this film?
CARY MCCLELLAND: In 2009, the Swat valley was caught in the middle of a civil war that displaced millions of Pakistanis. We took our crew up into the region to cover the impact of this conflict on these people. A group of refugees rioted when the government shut down their aid efforts, and we were caught in the middle. It is only because one of our subjects had the courage and temperament to get out of the car and ask the crowd what was wrong, that they allowed us to pass safely. We owe Laiba an incredible debt for her ability to bridge that divide on our behalf. In fact, we owe all our partners a tremendous debt for their trust, hospitality, and encouragement that made this project possible.
SFF 2013: What were some of your most rewarding experiences during the making of this film?
CARY MCCLELLAND: By and large, we had the warmest response from everyone we encountered directly through the film. Anyone we contacted to participate in the film welcomed us openly. Even those who weren’t comfortable participating, first welcomed us into their home, offered us tea or a meal, and heard us out fully before saying no. This was largely due to the presence of Pakistani filmmakers and journalists in key creative roles on our team, their trust helped assuage people's natural suspicions about the presence of an American filmmaker. Imran Babur in particular worked with incredible dedication on behalf of our mission for almost three years. His talent is writ large across this project, and our friendship, which has deepened especially of late, has become perhaps my most cherished product of the film.
SFF 2013: Please tell our readers anything else you would like them to know about your film:
CARY MCCLELLAND: Honestly, we really hope you take the chance to come see this film on the big screen. There are a lot of great films at this festival, and terrific docs in particular, but there is a special window into Pakistan that we have to share. We didn't just want to make something informative or just tell a good story, but we wanted to get into the emotion and poetry of the country, so that we could all leave feeling a part of it. I think there's a really beautiful experience that comes from us all sharing that in the room together. Perhaps the old theatre director in me. Regardless, I look forward to meeting and talking to everyone who makes it to the screenings. It's going to be a lot of fun.