TIFF Docs

GIRL UNBOUND

Erin Heidenreich

Girlunbound 01

An intimate portrait of Maria Toorpakai, who defies threats to herself and her family from Islamic fundamentalists in order to represent Pakistan as an internationally competitive squash player.

Maria Toorpakai Wazir has spent her young life defying expectations. At age 25, she is an internationally competitive squash player. But in her home country, Pakistan, she remains controversial. In her family's region of Waziristan, women are forbidden by the Taliban from playing sports. In Girl Unbound, we follow Maria over several months as she represents Pakistan on the national team and carves her own identity, despite threats to her family.

Filmmaker Erin Heidenreich makes her feature directorial debut with the same self-assurance behind the camera that Maria possesses on the squash court. The film takes us from Toronto, where Maria practices with squash champion Jonathon Power, to Pakistan, where her family is forced to relocate to Islamabad for safety. Defying fundamentalist threats, Maria takes a harrowing road trip through Pakistan with her sister Ayesha Gulalai, a local politician.

We get to know Maria's large family, including her father, Shamsul, and mother, Yasrab, who rejected restrictive customary gender roles when raising their sons and daughters. Growing up with an athletic physique, Maria dressed as a boy in order to compete in sports and weightlifting. She describes her identity as a mix of feminine and masculine qualities. Whatever confusion that might cause others, she conveys a remarkable self-confidence in being her own person.

This year, Maria published her memoir, A Different Kind of Daughter. That book, along with this film, demonstrates that she is a vital voice of resistance, standing up to forces that want to dictate what a woman's role should be.

THOM POWERS

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