Overcoming the COVID-19

in 19th Dhaka International Film Festival

by Ershad Komal Khan

The 19th edition of the Dhaka International Film Festival was held between January 16 and January 24 in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, screening 226 films from 73 countries simultaneously in theatres and online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit goes to its organiser, Rainbow Film Society, for holding the festival simultaneously at eight venues, including open-air shows with the presence of over a thousand audience members wearing masks every day. All of this happens at a time when most of the international film festivals were cancelled in the past year, since the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected over 190 countries across the globe, taking more than 2.13 million lives.

DIFF is perhaps the fifth festival organised simultaneously physically and virtually amid the pandemic to meet the global film calendar. Besides screening films, it included several other ancillary events such as the West Meets the East and the Conference on Women in Cinema.

The festival paid tribute to the father of the Bangladesh nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, marking his birth centenary with a tribute section that paid  homage to legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray and his own birth centenary.

Unfortunately, no foreign delegates were physically present, though over 100 foreigners, including FIPRESCI jurors, used to participate at Dhaka International Film Festival in each of the previous editions since its inception in 1992 under the theme of “Better film, better audience, better society.”

However, many foreign filmmakers, actors, critics, and festival delegates, met virtually at various ancillary events such as the West Meets the East, Conference on Women in Cinema and a seminar on Satyajit Ray.

Over 20 thousand people virtually attended each of these segments, organisers claimed. But apart from the open-air shows, not many people watched films at the theatres or on the online platform, introduced for the first time in the festival.

The 19th Dhaka International Film Festival saw the dominance of the films from the Central Asian countries, in comparison with the presence of Iranian films in previous editions. Five of the fifteen awards went to filmmakers and actors from Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Bashkortostan, and Mongolia.     

In the Asian Film Competition, the main competition section, Kyrgyz film The Road to Eden (Akyrkhy Koch, 2020), jointly directed by Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar Uulu, won the Best Film Award beating its 22 competitors. 

The Road to Eden is the strong narrative-led story of a retired writer Kubat Aliev, whose mission is to urge the continuous enlightenment, with the help of literature, of a nation undergoing a massive change when people are after monetary benefit. 

The Best Director Award went to Russian Ksenia Lagutina for the film Farida (2020), an Azerbaijan and Russia joint venture.

Kazakh actress Meruert Subbusinova snatched the Best Actress Award for her performance in Mariam, while Turkish Nejat Isler won the Best Actor Award for his acting in 9,75.

The Best Cinematography Award went to the Mongolian Galbadrakh Batmunkh for the film The Woman (2020) while the Best Script Writer Award was shared by Nasim Ahmadpour and Sharam Mokri for the Iranian film Careless Crime (Jenayat-E Bi Deghat, 2020).

The three-member FIPRESCI jury chose Masud Hasan Ujjal’s Incomplete Breath  (Unoponchash Batash, 2020) for the FIPRESCI Prize from the eight entries within the Bangladesh Panorama segment. Like in previous editions, none of the films screened under the segment was outstanding in terms of mise-en-scène, screen or cinematography, therefore the jury didn’t have to struggle much with picking the better one from the otherwise average and substandard films.   

The organisers, however, awarded the Best Audience Award to the Bangladeshi film Gondi (2020), directed by Fakhrul Arefeen Khan.

The Best Children Film Badal Rahman Award went to Taganok Team, directed by Aniur Askarov, from the Republic of Bashkortostan, a subject of Russian Federation.

In the Women Filmmakers Section, the Swedish film Incidents-Way Home (2020), directed by Jessica Lauren, won a Special Mention in the Short Fiction category, while the Iranian film Tirishko, directed by Shakiba Khaleghi, won the Best Short Film Award in the Short Fiction category. The Russia and Syria joint venture film Forbidden Children (2019), directed by Evdokia Moskvina, won the Best Documentary Award. Margarida Paiva won the Best Director Award for A Robba Gnor (2019), a joint venture between Norway and Italy.

In the Spiritual Film section, Senior Citizen (2020), directed by Marinos Kartikkis from Cyprus, bagged the Best Feature Award in the Feature Film category, while Sunless Shadows (2019), a joint venture of Iran and Norway, directed by Mehrdad Oskouei, won the Best Documentary.

The most discussed event of the festival was the Dhaka International Conference on Women that DIFF has been organizing for nearly a decade. In the seventh edition of the conference held for two consecutive days at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, several local and foreign filmmakers virtually presented papers, featuring the problems faced by female filmmakers across the globe were facing within the patriarchal industry.

French filmmaker-producer Meral Melika Duran and Canadian film consultant-programmer Hannah Fisher said that the COVID-19 pandemic had deepened the challenges faced by female filmmakers from across the globe even more now, together with the economical backlash everywhere.

The 19th edition of the Dhaka International Film Festival came to an end on January 24 with an awards ceremony, where the festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal announced that the 20th edition will be held between January 15th-23rd, 2022. Dhaka will welcome it even more colourfully, since Bangladesh will be celebrating tje 50th anniversary of its independence and DIFF will mark its 30th founding anniversary.

Ershad Komal Khan
Edited by Savina Petkova