14th Dhaka International Film Festival
Bangladesh, January 14 - January 22 2016
Bangladesh may be one of the poorest countries in the world but these difficulties are in no way an obstacle to defiantly projecting a cinema culture, nor to putting on an international film festival. After independence in 1971, the country witnessed a resonant cinema culture in the late 1970s which lasted some 10 years but has since dwindled. Only now, and through the irregular editions of the Dhaka International Film Festival, are there real signs of promoting growth again in the cinema culture here.
For this its 14th edition, guests were invited from some 60 countries and obliged by enthusiastically attending for the no-thrills but intimate festival. The most intense participation in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, centered on the cinema of the Central Public Library which was the main hub for all delegates, bookended by the opening and closing ceremonies at the nearby National Museum. Further screenings took place in the close proximity of the Alliance Francaise de Dhaka which also hosted events such as the two day 2nd International Conference on Women in Cinema attended, amongst many guest speakers, by Norwegian filmmaker Anja Breien who was the subject of a choice retrospective of her career this year with eight films (particularly her Wives (1975-96) trilogy, a response to John Cassavetes’ Husbands (1970); along with a selected retrospective of five films from French director Agnes Varda (not present in Dhaka).
The program this year was rich in content and quality. In fact the only problem in programing so many films was that most only got a single screening, detrimental in that word of mouth reaction would be ultimately frustrating for those who didn’t catch the one and only chance to see particularly well received films, of which there were many.
As for the International Australasian Film Competition, in what was in fact a section of 20 films covering the region from Turkey, looking east to the Philippines, quality did vary somewhat. Many countries were not represented at all, while others had two or more entries. It was, however, encouraging to see that Bangladesh entered some four films in the main competition. There were no less than five juries giving awards, again reflecting the “more is more” approach to the festival program and also giving films a better chance to pick up an award. Along with the aforementioned sections, the others were for Spiritual, Shorts & Independents, and Women’s Competition sections, complementing the two-day women’s conference. The main jury awarded many prizes; the winner for Best Film was A Few Cubic Meters of Love (Iran/Afghanistan), directed by Jamshid Mahmoudi. Best Director went to Tom Waller, director of The Last Executioner, from Thailand.
Local audiences were encouraged by the Special Mentions Bangladesh films received for A Day in the Life of Anil Bagchi (Anil Bagchir Ek Din), directed by Morshedul Islam, in the Best Film Category, while Special Mention in the Best Director Category went to Abu Shah Demon, the director of Jalal’s Story. The Bangladesh entry Under Construction (not entered for the Fipresci prize), directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, was the recipient of Best Audience Award and also received a Special Mention in the Women’s Section where it just missed out to the Iranian winner Track 143 (Shiyar-e 143), directed by Narges Abyar.
The Fipresci Prize was unanimously chosen from our three-man Jury and went to the Turkish film Sivas, directed by Kaan Müjdeci, his debut film. We chose Sivas as winner “for the masterful conveyance of childhood innocence denied by the brutality of a human environment, achieved through the dark imagery of the poignant mise-en-scene.”
Out of competition, there was a section of new films called Cinema of the World, showcasing 23 films from Europe, Asia and South America. Furthermore, there was a section on Children’s film, mainly from Asia, and a section showcasing recent Scandinavian films. Though a competition section, the perennially important Shorts & Independents film section included a variety of films from young talents across the world hoping to be feature directors in the future.
Despite the massive poverty, environmental and noise pollution, the population density and manic traffic problems, this Dhaka festival was full of optimism and idealism. All the guests, centered in one central hotel and under heavy armed guard, bonded and formed friendships. It seems that everyone who came had a very nice time here. The further good news announced during this festival is that the Bangladesh Government has plans to make the festival an annual event, so everyone can anticipate the 15th Dhaka International Film Festival this time next year. (Steven Yates)
Dhaka International Film Festival: www.dhakafilmfestival.org