The Dhaka International Film Festival is a flagship event in the domain of films and film appreciation in the context of Bangladesh and I am happy to see that it is slowly but gradually becoming a high platform for projecting the Bangladeshi understanding of the evolution of the film-space all over the world. It is especially heartening to see that the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival is dedicated to the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is coming up at a cusp of time when we are crossing over from within the ‘Mujib Borsho’ to the Golden Jubilee of our Independence.
It was the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had first tabled the bill in the provincial assembly of erstwhile East Pakistan for the formation of Film Development Corporation (FDC) in 1957. This FDC eventually became BFDC after the independence of Bangladesh –and till today holds and nurtures the principal foundation of Bangladesh’s Film Industry.
Few years ago, I had a privilege to attend the Indian International Film Festival in Orlando, Florida as I was, at that time President of the UN General Assembly and also Bangladesh Permanent Representative. The whole Stadium was full of spectators, the road sides were crowded with thousands of movie enthusiasts, there were plenty of dancers in the stadium and I could hardly see their faces because of dazzling floodlights and then I had the privilege to handover awards to dancing couples, a combination of one Bollywood and one Hollywood, for example Maduri Dixit and John Trevolta, Priyanka Chopra and Richard Gere etc. I don’t remember the rest but it was a grand gala event.
The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Better Film, Better Audience and Better Society’. The slogan made me think deep and hard and in my short talk, I would like to share what I have found.
Films, Movies and indeed the silver-screen of the ‘Cine Space’, is a space which allow the human intellectual endeavour to combine its existential realities, contextual ambiguities, and aspirational eccentricities into a single tape of celluloid – which now, of course, is pixilated into a block of memory.
In my understanding, films are one of the most poignant and invasive instruments accessible to the humankind for venturing into the realms of the mind, of the memory and of the imaginations that define the “human story”. Films depict the art that transcends the boundaries of lives and livings and tell the stories which, often, we are even afraid to tell or look at. If I may borrow the words of Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage; and all the men and women merely players”. He further added, “It’s (Life) a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It is also said, possibly by the Great Greek Philosopher and Medic, Hippocrates, that “Art is Long, and Life is Short”. Films render these two phenomenal verses into one meditation –that of the story untold.
Because of their construction, films speak a universal language. It has meaning and relevance for all peoples, regardless of their ethnic origins, linguistic identities, national affiliations, cultural characteristics or for that matter, even social or economic bearing. Interestingly, like wisdom itself, films often ascribed different meanings at different times, and different classes of viewers watch them with very different attributes and expectations.
Films, as a popular means of modern art, breaks the institutionalized barriers amongst peoples and accentuates the values, feelings and longings that are shared almost universally by the sentient of human beings. Films allow human individuals to connect beyond borders and frontiers inflicted on him by the society or the state or the faith systems and the epochs to which he belongs. Even in the midst of blood, tear and chaos, films allow harmony to blossom in a myriad of stories. Films are also carrier technologies to reproduce a glowing shadow of the biologically or the socially induced life and reflect the mirrors which make up the times.
Imagine – time stands still – like frames in void – and then we can look into the threads of thoughts which weave the minds!
The impact of films is at times lasting and eternal. “Ballad of a Soldier,” “Cranes are flying,” “Officers and Gentlemen,” “On the River Kawai,” “Casablanca,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Wizard of Oz”, “Jaws”, “Titanic”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, “Gladiator”, “Harry Potter”, “Lincoln”, etc. are ever fresh in our minds. We know, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” (by PB Shelley). May I
challenge you with the task of making films patronizing the saddest stories of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority that are the victims of hatred and enmity in a land of Buddhism that believe in Ohinsho and Nirvana, self purifica tion where hatred and killing is unthinkable.
In the matters of the state, cultural cooperation has always played a pivotal role in bringing peoples closer. The true dialogue between and amongst civilizations are always through stories and narratives that each tell the other. Civilisational ways become richer and more colorful through exchanges between each other. Such exchanges and shared learnings form an important drive for human progress as well as of global peace and of human development. Cultural events, such as this Film Festival, enable direct exchanges and dialogues among civilizations and peoples.
In the Dhaka International Film Festival, I am told that a total of 226 films will be screened with participation from around 73 countries. Even with constraints put in place by COVID19, this is a great event for gathering and presenting creative minds around the world. Through this event, I hope that people will know and learn about culture, society, tradition and believes of other countries.
In spite of a sustained patronage from the Government, the film industry of Bangladesh has demonstrated fluctuating trends over the last couple of decades. Experimental theatres and telefilms have taken up a greater portion of the innovations in this space. In spite of having a community which is both capable and discerning, private funding for both commercial and art films has remained an issue too. The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted untold sufferings for the artists and the supporting casts and even for the financiers of the films. The theatres where people usually go and enjoy a film with family were shut down due to the pandemic.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has managed the COVID-19 situation very successfully across the country and at present we see that the infection level is reduced to less than 10%. So for the sake of our film industry, the government has opened the theatres again under conditions of health and social-distancing restrictions.
At the same time, we see an upsurge in the production and delivery of films through digital means like OTT platforms. Bangladeshi film directors like those from other countries have also produced films for OTT platform and some of these films have gained popularity globally. May I suggest that we maintain the momentum in this regard to take advantage of the waves which are coming in the next phase of evolution in the cine-space.
A well-made Film can showcase the various emotions, strengths and weaknesses; fears and flaws; love and anger; the many colours of life. Remember the Rashomon effect? Lives! Views! Viewpoints! Angles! Camera! Lights! Action! How many lives we live on a single tape?
A film festival like Dhaka International Film Festival is essentially a festival of life! A festival of music and of colours! Of dreams! This is a perfect habitation for our young talents to learn and gather experience from the experts. This flicker in the greater schema of things, is also a place in time where our distinguished friends from around the globe can have a taste of the ancient richness of Bangladesh - rich and layered. As was said in a film, ‘rich in love, poor in love; rich in friendship, poor in friendship”.
(This write-up has been adapted from his statement delivered at the inaugural ceremony of 19th Dhaka International Film Festival on 16 January 2021)
Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen is the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.