The Venice Film Festival has awarded Pakistani short film Darling the prestigious Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film. Starring trans actress Alina Khan, the film is set in Lahore, which is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab. According to IMDb, the short tells the story of “a dreamy trans girl” who “desperately tries to become a star and a naïve young boy” who falls in love with her.
The film, which was directed by Saim Sadiq, marks Khan’s acting debut.
According to Pakistan’s The Nation, Darling “tackles the lack of transgender representation in the country's visual arts and is bound to engage with … relationships that have previously not been the subject of films in Pakistan.”
Darling is the first Pakistani film to be screened at Venice and the first to win an award.
The movie appears to also be the first film starring a trans actor to be recognized by the festival’s jury, although Venice has awarded trans-themed films before. The Danish Girl, Summer Nights, and The Weight all won the Queer Lion, although their transgender leads were played by cis actors.
The short has also been screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Sadiq's previous short film, Nice Talking To You, toured film festivals throughout the United States, including South by Southwest and the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films. It won Vimeo’s Best Director Award at the Columbia University Film Festival last year.
In an interview with Arab News, Sadiq said Darling’s big win at Venice was completely unexpected. “I sent it in during the open submission call with zero expectations that it would be chosen,” he said. “Through luck or something, we got in.”
Other wins at Venice included Todd Phillips’ Joker, which took home the Golden Lion, Venice’s top prize, while controversial director Roman Polanski won the Silver Lion for An Officer and a Spy. Polanski is a fugitive from justice following a 1978 statutory rape conviction and has faced other allegations of sexual assault, and his much-criticized selection was viewed as indicative of an overall lack of diversity among films tapped to compete.