A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject, recently made its world premiere on HBO. Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (who also won an Oscar in 2012 of Saving Face) and edited by Geof Bartz, A.C.E., the 40-minute film went through editorial conforming, final color grading and preparation for broadcast at Technicolor PostWorks New York.
A Girl in the River examines the tensions between modernism and tradition in Pakistan through the story of an 18-year-old woman who survived an attempted honor killing. Saba was shot in the head and thrown into a river to die by her father and uncle after she fell in love and married without her family’s permission. The story of Saba’s survival and its complicated aftermath is told through interviews with her, the police officer and doctor who saved her life, and others, including her father.
Editorial conforming and final color grading was performed at Technicolor PostWorks by senior finishing editor and colorist Eric Ramistella working under the direction of Obaid-Chinoy and Bartz.
Bartz notes that the film does not have the look of a traditional documentary. “The film looks exotic and romantic,” he explains. “It’s a Romeo and Juliet story. Some of the villages can appear dreary, but the clothes worn by the women are colorful and beautiful. The landscapes surrounding the villages and cities are spectacular. We were able to make it look great.”
Ramistella conformed the film on an Avid Symphony and used FilmLight’s Baselight for Avid plugin to perform color adjustments. He worked with original camera elements, using LUTs supplied by Bartz and cinematographer Asad Fauqi as guides.
“We worked from the flat footage and built it up from there,” Ramistella recalls. “I did a first color pass in the Avid and then pulled it into the Baselight plugin for fine adjustments. That allowed me to give more attention to faces and other fine points.”
Ramistella’s task was to establish consistency between elements shot with different cameras over a period of months. Many scenes were shot at night and required finessing to bring out the details and create the right mood. “There was one long night scene where Saba was riding in a tuk tuk,” Ramistella recalls. “It was a big challenge to create the right balance so that we could see her and the city passing by outside.”
“The footage was so malleable; it was amazing,” adds Bartz. “Eric transformed it as far as I’m concerned. He brought a nice, even, unobtrusive feel to all of the shots.”
Bartz says that the success that the film has enjoyed has been very gratifying, and he welcomes the attention it is bringing to a problem that affects thousands of young women. “This film raises a fundamental question of freedom for women,” he says.
The film has had an impact. After Obaid-Chinoy received her Oscar, she met with the prime minister of Pakistan who vowed to plug loopholes in local law. If passed, a new bill will make honor killings a crime against the state.
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