Leaving home to attend college can be a stressful, daunting experience under the best of circumstances. But for Baneen Khan, it was a life-changing experience. Directed by Amman Abbasi, Udaan tells the story of a young Pakistan woman who migrates from Karachi, Pakistan to a small town in Arkansas for her first year of college—all in the middle of the pandemic. The short documentary premiered online on August 19 as part of Hindsight.
When Abbasi first considered potential film ideas for the Hindsight project, he thought about his cousin Baneen, who he knew was preparing to come to the U.S. for college. Abbasi knew Baneen had an interesting journey ahead of her and felt it was a story worth documenting.
“Baneen was pretty easy to get on board,” Abbasi explains. “She and I were talking on WhatsApp and I told her about the idea. It took some warming up to but she is very sociable and she is very outspoken so I knew that she would be a really good subject.”
The short documentary chronicles an emotional series of events as Baneen leaves her hometown and arrives in the South. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Baneen prepares herself to live in isolation with her mother and attend her college classes virtually. However, after her mother is turned away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Baneen is forced to navigate her new life in the South by herself.
Abbasi did not know exactly what to expect when filming Udaan, so he approached the filmmaking process with an open mind. He explains that there were many challenges in the making of Udaan, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was a very difficult film to make behind the camera and in front of the camera,” Abbasi says. “The world truly was and is in peril so we’re seeing how our lives are being altered—and how Baneen’s life is altered in that single moment.”
Rather than providing commentary or explanations that are common in traditional documentaries, Abbasi says he hopes viewers feel the emotions of Udaan through Baneen’s facial expressions and actions. Abbasi says he hopes people watch the short documentary and feel empathy for individuals like Baneen.
“I think you can see the other side of the coin for those in America who people often generalize about or distill down to a very cliché experience,” Abbasi says. “You see a very small portion of Baneen’s life but it has incredible struggle and within that, I think hopefully someone will look at a 17-year old or 18-year old in a classroom slightly differently knowing that they have a world of a different experience.”
Udaan is now streaming online. It is one of six films by BIPOC Southern filmmakers as part of Hindsight, a collaboration between Firelight Media, Reel South, and the Center for Asian American Media.
Watch Udaan and all of the Hindsight films on the WORLD Channel’s YouTube channel.