In Vanishing History, Daud Khattak, Senior Editor of RFE/RL’s Pakistani Service, known locally as Radio Mashaal, examines the brave efforts to protect northwest Pakistan’s ancient Buddhist heritage in the face of threats from looting, neglect, vandalism, and the Taliban.
Khattak says he felt compelled to spread awareness of the need to protect and preserve Pakistan’s pre-Islamic heritage after meeting a school teacher in Swat District in 2007 who had been jailed by the Taliban for protecting historical ruins and sculptures, seen by the Taliban as “signs of infidels.”
Says Khattak, “The award means a lot for me and RFE/RL and it is encouraging. I would be happy if the international community, UNESCO or the Pakistani authorities come forward to ensure the safety of these sites."
The 28-minute video documentary features interviews with local residents, government officials, and archaeologists on the struggle to safeguard history in order to share it with future generations.
The locations in focus are an ancient Buddhist site in the city of Saidu Sharif in Pakistan's Swat Valley; the remains of a huge monastic complex known as Takht Bhai, roughly 65 kilometers north of Peshawar; and the neighboring village of Seri Behlol, where locals have made their homes on historical sites. Digital animations based on photographs and expert renderings show how Takht Bhai looked two thousand years ago.
Khattak says he would like to extend the project to other sites of historical importance in Pakistan that need urgent attention, such as those in the Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; Peshawar; and Taxila.
Vanishing History was produced in 2017, and has been included in East Silver Market, an initiative supporting distribution and promotion of documentary films in central and eastern Europe.
In its fifth year, the annual Berlin Short Film Festival screened some 85 films under 50 minutes in length over four days of premieres and networking events. The festival, which “prioritises low-budget films of independent spirit and exciting new talent,” welcomed international producers, directors, film professionals, and the general public to showings at Berlin’s historic Kino Babylon.