Shining Moments

in 20th Dhaka International Film Festival

by Bidhan Rebeiro

The Indian film Koozhangal (Pebbles, 2021) won the best film award in the Asian Film Competition category at the 20th Dhaka International Film Festival. The film, directed by P.S. Vinothraj, features remote villages, scorching sunlight, sand, rocky and arid terrain, water scarcity, and poor population. In this harsh and barren environment, the director follows a hot-headed man named Ganapathy (Karuththadaiyaan), who is angry with his wife and thus ready to burn the whole world with the cigarettes in his hand.  

His son Velu (Chellapandi) becomes the silent witness of Ganapathy’s rage as he travels to his father-in-law’s house, far from the village, to look for his wife and daughter. He is furious for some reason, determined to separate from his wife but he cannot find her.

Velu is upset to see his father’s irresponsible actions and, out of his own anger, tears up all the money for the return bus fare – only to get beaten up by his father as well. 

Father and son then leave for the native village and walk on their bare feet through the unbearably hot and scattered gravel path. Picking up a small stone on the way, Velu wipes it with his clothes and puts it on his mouth. He is hungry. On the way back, a puppy also joined them. After reaching their home, they learn that Velu’s mother had gone away to collect water because of a terrible water crisis, while Velu’s sister was sleeping.

A group of women sits in front of a small hole with massive jugs. An older woman is slowly filling the jar with muddy water. It will take her all day, and you can imagine the condition of the women as they wait patiently for their turn. The movie ends with this water-filling scene, and its monotonous sound reminded me of Béla Tarr‘s The Turin Horse (2011).

Life in the world is monotonous and painful according to Buddhism; it has to go through many hardships. The memories that give people joy in their life journey are like pebbles, like the little stone Velu picked up from the ground in this beautiful small film. It came as no surprise that this little gem of a film took home the main award in the end. 

Festivals offer an excellent opportunity to watch eccentric movies like Pebbles on the big screen, far away for the so-called commercial film world. Many observational and serious films could be seen at this festival. Film industries that do not have a booming economy or are not well known in the festival circuit can showcase their contents, but the most important thing is that we can get to see and experience these beautiful films made by independent producers and directors.

This festival edition was particularly special to me, because I acted as a FIPRESCI jury member for the first time. I had the great opportunity to watch and judge the films of the ‘Bangladesh Panorama’ section of the festival. I was accompanied by Siraj Hashim Saeed, an experienced Indian film critic and journalist, and Mohammed Saeed Abdelrehim, an Egyptian journalist. In the nine days we spent together, we became friends.

Two hundred twenty-five films from seventy countries, including Bangladesh, participated in this year’s festival. Many guests could not attend due to the pandemic. However, quite a lot of film directors, producers, organisers, programmers, and critics still managed to get to Dhaka from various countries. I met Pierre Filmon, a French director and producer, who was very interested to get to know more about Bangladeshi films. As far as I could, I shared my knowledge with him. Furthermore, Ipsita Barat, an Indian film teacher, and filmmakers Ankit Bagchi and Supriya Suri also demonstrated their interest in this country’s film and film literature. 

Bulgarian filmmaker and producer Yana Lekarska let me see her short film, The Bridge (2016). The film has philosophical dimensions related to death. A girl thinks she will commit suicide; at that time, her life lures her mind, as if life is like candy floss. Eventually, a photographer brings her back from the brink of death. He becomes the guardian angel of the dying girl – Lekarska’s short film is a wonderfully symbolic piece of work.

In addition, the Croatian producer Dalia Alic allowed me to see The Stamp (2019) by Lovro Mrden. In this film, the life of a young refugee becomes precarious due to the state bureaucracy. This is such a big issue, but it was told effectively in only 18 minutes.

This film festival will be memorable to me for a few more reasons. We also got the chance to see five films of Japanese master filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu on the big screen. These days, almost everyone watches films on computer screens or smartphones, but I have a love for cinema and for seeing films on the big screen.

Although I had seen three films of Ozu before, I did not miss the opportunity to see them on the big screen again. Moreover, many scenes in the movie were of excellent quality because of the Blu-ray print – one could see the detail of the frames. While watching the films of this Japanese master filmmaker, I also met a Bengali language lover and filmmaker from Japan. Her name is Mika Sasaki. She made a documentary about Rabindranath’s ‘Tagore Songs’ which screened at this year’s festival edition and received special appreciation from the media.

During the festival, I wrote a regular column in the daily ‘Utsav‘, the festival bulletin. Mashhurul Amin Milon edited the publication, but the offer to write was first given to him by the festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal. The way Mr.  Zamal has welcomed foreign and local delegates and, at the same time, managed to delegate the organisational staff and volunteers is outstanding. It is also a daunting task to select the films from abroad and screen them timely. Such a big event is not easily put together; we know it has been running for two decades. The contribution of Mr. Zamal and his Rainbow Film Society in shaping this film festival and creating an event of international standard is undeniable.

Bidhan Rebeiro
Edited by Pamela Jahn