Silent Veil

These women do not wake up with bruises; they wake up without a face

Silent Veil In Pakistan, veils hide one of the country's most terrible secrets. Driven by revenge, jealousy, obsession or sexual non co-operation, some men subject their wives to horrific attacks with the acid that has become freely available in the country. Completely disfigured, the victims are often ostracized by their friends and families and become prisoners in their own homes. This chilling doc is a terrifying insight into the shattered lives of these women.

Staring out through melted eyelids, semi-blind and with her nose completely disintegrated, 21-year-old Irum Saeed tells the story of the day she lost her face. "The boy threw acid at me because he could not tolerate my parent's rejection of his proposal" says Irum, "Even today, I cannot forget the crooked smile on his face, as he ran off". Brought to the hospital by a passer-by, Irum woke up in hospital, "I asked my mother for a mirror, but she said there was nothing left look at".

When Musarrat Misbah, the owner of a Beauty Salon, met another victim, she decided to take action. Her foundation, Smile Again, is designed to bring hope to these women by providing them with the means to undergo reconstructive surgery and moral support. Because the victims endure, "Not just physical, even stronger is the inner pain, the unbearable pain".

Musarrat travels throughout Pakistan to meet not only victims, but also other Pakistanis, trying to gain insight into the cause of such a devastating issue. In educated circles there is a firm desire to tackle the problem. Author Faryal Ali Gohar maintains, "If this could be a nation where the rights that are granted to men and women by the constitution and religious texts were understood, then we would be happier". A primitive male dominant culture combined with Sharia law has left some parts of Pakistani society convinced they have a right to brutalise women for any perceived sleight. This combined with the easy access to acid and kerosene has created a dangerous social environment for women.

However, Musarrat is committed to get these women standing on their feet again. Nashreem Sharif who lost her sight when her face was burnt with acid at the age of 15, is one of just many women who have benefited from her help. Dr Losasso explains that at first she had no confidence and was extremely fearful. Today she is a qualified braille teacher, according to Dr Losasso, "Her spirit has changed too".

Both shocking and heart-breaking, this documentary shows not only the atrocious injustices that some women are subjected to in Pakistan, but also the beauty behind the scarred faces of these women who have only one wish: to put the past behind and smile again.


Laurel Official Selection, LIDF, 2011

The Producers

Milt Alvarez, a producer of television commercials, marks his entry in the documentary world with his debut film, Silent Veil. After meeting Masarrat Misbah in late October of 2008, Alvarez resolved to tell this story of tragedy and triumph. He returned in February 2009 to film the project. As director and producer of the project, he traveled to all parts of Pakistan, in spite of security concerns, to capture the footage for this compelling and moving story. Alvarez's goal of this film is to create a global consciousness for people suffering from this heinous crime. He founded Contribution Films to tell this story.

Making The Film

"My journey started with an article in a magazine. An article detailing such horrific acts to young girls and women, that I had no choice but to do something about it. Reaching out to Massarat Misbah of the Depilex Smileagain Foundation, I found a woman on a mission. A woman who had reached a point in her life where she had attained success and comfort, until that fateful day. On that day, a young veiled girl, relentlessly pleading for help, approached her. As the girl unveiled, she revealed that she had no face. Misbah was shocked and she immediately took her in. The next day she placed an ad in the local paper to see if there were any more girls like this. She got 50 immediate responses. Misbah was moved to begin her quest to help these girls and founded Depilex Smileagain. Depilex Smileagain now helps girls get reconstructive surgery, psychological rehabilitation and job training. On multiple trips to Pakistan, traveling all around the country, I got to know Misbah and many of these courageous girls and women. They all spoke out, at risk to themselves and loved ones, of these barbaric acts in an effort to stem this violence. In spite of their injuries, these women are determined to continue their lives, achieve self reliance with fortitude and restore their pride. Though for many their physical beauty may have been taken away, their inner beauty and strength remains firmly intact. This film is their story." - Milt Alvarez

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